10 Certified Fresh Psychological Thrillers

by | September 20, 2011 | Comments


Black Swan

A companion piece of sorts to The Wrestler, Black Swan stars Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis as ballet rivals angling for the lead in a Swan Lake adaptation. As the competition heats up, so too does Portman’s vivid hallucinations and bizarre occuerences around her. What is she seeing? And why? Darren Aronofsky directs with unstoppable force, concoting a shamelessly melodramatic and profoundly grand psychological thriller. The movie gave Portman an Academy Award, and gave us the image of the two leads in a darkroom imprinted permanently onto our brains.


The Machinist

Otherwise known as “that movie nobody’s really seen but Christian Bale lost a lot of weight for” — because he’s so serious about his craft; hence the tortured Batman growl — this is the story of an industrial worker who begins to question his sanity when he develops chronic insomnia. Ghosts, mysterious post-it notes (scary!), and monotone 2000s cinematography ensue. Oh, the pain.


A Tale of Two Sisters

South Korea’s Kim Ji-woon (I Saw the Devil, The Good, the Bad, the Weird) is an unabashed fan of genre fare, and A Tale of Two Sisters, a psych thriller/horror hybrid, was the first film of his to garner him international recognition. The plot centers on adolescent Su-mi, who has returned home with her younger sister Su-yeon from psychiatric care to face the stepmother she hates and the father she resents. As tensions rise in the household, supernatural visions begin to haunt Su-mi, but determining what is real and what is imaginary is up to the viewer. A skillful and measured blend of suspense, paranoia, and sheer terror, A Tale of Two Sisters‘s “a-ha” moment is certainly satisfying, but the fact that you soiled your britches getting to that moment is what makes it so fun.


Mulholland Drive

Mulholland Drive isn’t an ordinary mystery; you’ll have it all figured out pretty early — until halfway through the movie, when Lynch pulls the rug out from underneath you, rolls it up, fills it with his giddy ideas, and forces you to smoke it. The film initially follows a woman with amnesia (Laura Harring), an aspiring actress (Naomi Watts in a breakout performance), and a hotshot movie director (Justin Theroux), all living in Los Angeles, but ultimately takes these threads and weaves a dark and grimy tale of obsession, conspiracy, and murder set against the backdrop of Hollywood. A Hollywood, by the way, that includes cowboys, hitmen, and demonic elderly couples.



Bill Paxton’s directorial debut is a gripping, slowburning Southern tension. In a story mainly told through a series of flashbacks, Paxton portrays a rural single father who one night recieves a vision from God telling him to cleanse the world of a few demons. The demons? Oh, yeah, they’re disguised as people. It’s all a very sordid affair, with Paxton’s two boys split on the path their father has taken them: one believes, the other a horrifed skeptic. And we see that the effects will last well into adulthood…



Christopher Nolan’s Memento essentially begins at the end of its story and invites the audience to retrace its steps alongside its protagonist, long term memory-deficient Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), who’s attempting to unravel the mystery behind his wife’s rape and murder. Alternately told in chronological order (the past, shown in black-and-white) and reverse chronological order (the present, in color), Nolan’s mind-bending script never quite lets on what’s happening until the last possible moment, beginning with a bang (literally) and sustaining its tension and sense of disorientation so effectively that — wait, what were we talking about again?



Plenty of cinematic criminals toy with the cops, but few go to as great a length as John Doe, the methodical, Biblically-versed slayer in Seven. Detectives William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and David Mills (Brad Pitt) are on the trail of a particularly nasty serial killer — one whose brutal body of work is inspired by the seven deadly sins — and after a while it becomes clear that the man they’re after may be sending them a message. David Fincher rocketed to the directorial A-list with this moody, sometimes agonizingly suspenseful police procedural.


The Silence of the Lambs

You might have heard of this one. A cold, careerist FBI cadet with daddy issues and a sinister farmyard past teams up with a remorseless cannibal psychopath to foil a gifted needlework artist who’s otherwise minding his own business as he wrestles with his gender identity and tenderly cares for his toy poodle. Sales of chianti, human skin leggings and rubbing lotion soon took off.


Don’t Look Now

Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now is mind-bendingly creepy. It’s alternately a haunting meditation on grief and a supernatural spookfest — one that stays in your mind long after the credits roll. After the tragic death of their daughter, John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) move to Venice, where John works to restore a historically significant church. But it seems their dead daughter is haunting the canals and alleyways of their newly-adopted city — and a series of suspicious murders has unnerved the locals.



The slasher subgenre owes its existence to Psycho, though Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece is worlds deeper than the gorefests that came in its wake. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is one of cinema’s most tortured antagonists — he’s a lonely mama’s boy with a domineering mother, and his murderous impulses can be attributed to a seriously damaged psyche. Hitchcock’s genius is that his antihero’s behavior elicits some seriously conflicting emotions — do we fear Norman, or pity him? Therein lies the beauty of the psychological thriller, the way it challenges our perception of the narrative and the characters contained within. It’s all in a day’s work for the Master of Suspense.

  • Jason

    i poo poo them all

Tag Cloud

Martial Arts period drama Tomatazos Anna Paquin Hulu Countdown cats aliens Chernobyl DirecTV television IFC Films Premiere Dates Opinion Drama Pirates Cartoon Network Mystery Film Festival FOX ITV thriller Set visit Ovation 24 frames mutant Apple Dark Horse Comics sitcom Grammys TCA richard e. Grant Comics on TV Rom-Com USA Network Awards Action 2019 Heroines The Witch Watching Series Fox News CW Seed DC Comics 20th Century Fox Rocky Lucasfilm Reality Polls and Games Mary Poppins Returns Paramount Network TCA 2017 Interview Teen Mary poppins DGA The Arrangement Pride Month social media Ghostbusters 2017 robots Election space GoT GLAAD El Rey spy thriller crime Netflix natural history LGBT supernatural National Geographic Red Carpet Quiz Brie Larson disaster Musical Trivia casting mockumentary blaxploitation SDCC Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Comic Book Musicals NBC crime thriller Nickelodeon YouTube Premium Video Games Tumblr serial killer based on movie Reality Competition dc psychological thriller Christmas vampires San Diego Comic-Con dragons adaptation Superheroe Super Bowl HBO jamie lee curtis spinoff Spectrum Originals Marathons Calendar teaser animated nature Lionsgate Shondaland streaming MSNBC Nat Geo justice league CBS harry potter war Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Mudbound Sneak Peek sports TV Land Spring TV Logo biography Pet Sematary Black Mirror Acorn TV Infographic GIFs talk show DC streaming service VICE Vudu technology science fiction Schedule E3 politics 2018 CBS All Access Bravo AMC finale hist Pixar crime drama green book Elton John MTV The CW X-Men Adult Swim YA Horror Thanksgiving Country Year in Review APB Food Network Winter TV Universal Starz Fantasy what to watch American Society of Cinematographers Toys E! 21st Century Fox PaleyFest award winner Trophy Talk Biopics zombie NYCC Kids & Family Animation travel Valentine's Day Sony Pictures anthology transformers Columbia Pictures composers Marvel Crackle Women's History Month strong female leads Spike Holidays anime BBC America IFC CNN TV History 45 Freeform Creative Arts Emmys MCU game show 2015 VH1 Emmys Nominations Box Office Showtime Captain marvel miniseries First Look Esquire festivals SXSW Sci-Fi Britbox sequel Mindy Kaling 007 Photos Best and Worst ratings unscripted See It Skip It Amazon LGBTQ Star Wars Sundance Now theme song President doctor who facebook dramedy Extras A&E Trailer Stephen King Fall TV historical drama RT History TLC medical drama Awards Tour cops DC Universe New York Comic Con YouTube Red Song of Ice and Fire Certified Fresh toy story RT21 Amazon Prime Writers Guild of America comic boxoffice SundanceTV witnail comiccon TCM Comedy dceu zero dark thirty OWN Lifetime Epix cinemax TruTV USA diversity elevated horror discovery Cosplay Rock binge WGN TNT Rocketman Masterpiece Syfy ESPN PBS spider-man cooking BET Warner Bros. Podcast ABC Family Western Superheroes zombies singing competition FXX Mary Tyler Moore psycho romance golden globes Sundance docudrama true crime cults ABC Paramount Summer TIFF Disney Channel Ellie Kemper Winners TBS Star Trek adventure Disney Cannes Pop Walt Disney Pictures FX political drama Music Comedy Central 2016 crossover Character Guide Oscars Shudder BBC Tarantino police drama CMT