By Stephen Aspeling7 February 2023
9 psychological thrillers to keep you up at night
Is it real or is it an illusion? Films have the power to immerse us in stories to the point that we can live vicariously through a character’s eyes. Psychological thrillers offer audiences a chance to engage all our senses as we’re enticed to escape into someone else’s emotional, physical and even spiritual frame of mind.
Whether flight of fantasy or a dream, be captivated by 9 deliciously suspenseful mind-game movies now streaming for your viewing pleasure.
When it comes to psychological horror mystery thrillers, Jordan Peele is leading the way after his breakthrough Oscar-winning film, Get Out. Starring Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah) in an iconic role, the elevated horror journeys with Chris Washington, a young African-American man who “meets the parents” over one fateful weekend.
Channeling the social tension of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, this artful, nuanced and timely thriller cranks up the uneasiness to melting point as the slicing-and-dicing comes at the hand of razor-sharp, straight-faced satirical comedy and a subversive undercurrent.
The pandemic has had an effect on our collective mental health. While this is still being quantified, our behavourial modification is being represented by psychological thrillers like Kimi. Directed by the versatile talent that is Steven Soderbergh (No Sudden Move), Kimi explores the stay-at-home existence of Angela, a young woman whose spatial anxiety is further entrenched by her insular lifestyle in Seattle.
Centred around a voice-activated assistant device, this modern take on Hitchcock’s Rear Window seeps into the here and now. Blending the armchair investigation of Bellingcat with the strange creature comforts of lockdown, Kimi spills onto the streets with Zoë Kravitz in full flight as an agoraphobic tech worker.
The story of Red Riding Hood is reinvented and comes to form the basis for the unsettling Afrikaans psychological thriller Vlugtig. Andreas, an eccentric playwright, invites budding actor Simon to join him at a forest retreat to rehearse and prepare for his rendition of the beloved fairy tale. Teaming up with a beautiful co-lead in Chantel, the trio discover their true roles as an experimental theatre production threatens to spin out of control.
Directed by Marinus Gubitz, Vlugtig’s tight-knit cast includes Arno Greeff, Jane de Wet and Ernst Van Wyk. Greeff and Van Wyk reprise their roles from the Vlugtig short film with Jane de Wet stepping in for Mila Guy. Psychological pressure builds and builds to boiling point in a suspenseful human drama,
Based on the book by Julia Walton, Words on Bathroom Walls explores the tormented world of a teen who struggles with mental health in his senior year of high school. The witty and introspective Adam forms a connection with Maya, a smart classmate who encourages him not to be defined by his schizophrenia diagnosis.
Directed by Thor Freudenthal, Words on Bathroom Walls is one part psychological thriller and one part romance drama, starring charming co-leads Charlie Plummer and Taylor Russell. The moody film that recalls Donnie Darko and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. This daring, multilayered, and vivid drama is artful, well-acted, and moves along at a good clip.
Best known for Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Edgar Wright is also the mind behind The Sparks Brothers music documentary. In a similar break from type, Wright explores a straight-up psychological horror mystery thriller, blending elements from Stephen King’s Carrie and The Shining, starring Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy.
In the stylish Last Night in Soho, a budding fashion designer discovers she’s able to step back in time to the 1960s. Strong performances from a next-generation cast anchor this elegant and flashy coming-of-age drama turned horror thriller as puzzle pieces lock into place.
James Wan brings his considerable experience and talent to the insane world of Malignant, an entertaining psychological crime horror mystery thriller, starring Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson and George Young. If Wan’s The Conjuring and Insidious film series captured a deadpan kind of horror, Malignant shows the director cutting loose with a machete.
Giving characters the space to go absolutely bonkers in this weird slasher, Malignant journeys with Madison whose visions of grisly murders torment her with waking dreams. An ode to old-school 80s horror, this flick deliberately runs off the rails to deliver a campy, fun and way-over-the-top splatterfest that implores you to never take it too seriously.
Much like A Nightmare on Elm Street connected Robert Englund to Freddie Krueger, the same can be said for Candyman and Tony Todd. A sequel to the 90s horror thriller slasher, this sleek new modern take reignites the infamous concept of summoning a murderous soul by saying his name five times in front of the mirror. Don’t try this at home.
Directed by Nia DaCosta, written by Jordan Peele and starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, this socially conscious psychological horror thriller adopts a fresh stance as an artist finds renewed inspiration in a grisly folk tale from his gentrified Chicago neighbourhood. Blurring the lines between reality and illusion, the legend of the Candyman returns to haunt a community affected by deep-seated racism.
Voice from the Stone is based on the novel La Voce Della Pietra by Silvio Raffo. In 1950s Tuscany, an English governess is hired to look after a young boy following his mother’s sudden passing. The more Verena observes the child in his quiet state, the more she becomes convinced he’s under the spell of something trapped in the castle’s walls.
The inimitable and expressive Emilia Clarke stars opposite Marton Csokas in this suspenseful and haunting tale set against the Italian countryside. Drawing on a similar gothic atmosphere to The Turn of the Screw, ghostly presences and slow-creeping suspense are the eerie currency of Voice from the Stone.
Reminiscence is a moody, smart and thought-provoking neo-noir sci-fi mystery romance thriller from the mind of writer-director Lisa Joy (Westworld). Led by a stellar cast in Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson and Thandiwe Newton, this psychological thriller centres on Nick Bannister, a private investigator who must navigate the past when he’s led on an obsessive quest for the truth after his client’s disappearance.
Reminiscent of Dark City and Inception, this intriguing, mesmerising and layered sci-fi thriller and dramatic portrait wrestles with the power of memory as the brooding Bannister becomes embroiled in his latest case.
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