When a suspenseful thriller film is done right, it can deliver an immersive and nervy experience. The best, such as The Silence of the Lambs, deliver a sense of dread that keeps viewers transfixed. Here are some of the flicks that must be seen.
1. Rear Window (1954)
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 classic Rear Window lies ahead of its time as a fine example of a suspenseful thriller film. The movie follows the story of a wheelchair-bound photographer, played by James Stewart, who spends his time looking out of the rear window to his neighbours’ apartments. He discovers an increasingly suspicious neighbour who may be involved in a murder. Rear Window went through its own suspenseful plot twists and contained subplots, foreshadows and suspense that set the theme for many thrillers over the next few decades.
This classic movie was ahead of its time, as it contained various suspense building techniques that were not common at that time. Hitchcock uses various techniques like camera angles, soundtrack, plot and dialogue. Rear Window was ground breaking in its effective use of suspense and contained various techniques that the audience would still find useful today.
2. The Babadook (2014)
The Babadook was a creation of writer/director Jennifer Kent. This modern thriller follows the story of a widow, Amelia, as she and her son, Samuel, try to cope with the death of her husband/father, who was killed in a car crash. The movie’s premise is that there’s an evil spirit, known as ‘the Babadook’, that is trying to take control of Amelia’s life and threatens to take away her son. This builds plenty of suspense and creates an eerie atmosphere throughout the film.
The Babadook may easily be interpreted as a metaphor for depression and other mental disorders, a perspective which makes the movie all the more real. It’s one of the most cleverly-crafted psychological thrillers ever made, with an intensity and a sense of dread that lingers long after the credits roll.
3. Alien (1979)
Ridley Scott’s Alien is regarded by many as one of the quintessential sci-fi horror films. The movie follows the crew of commercial towing vehicle Nostromo, who discover a mysterious alien life-form onboard. As the alien grows, it causes terror and death among the crew. Scott’s enduring work of horror masterpiece ushered in a new generation of horror films, ones that are true suspense thrillers.
Scott not only created a gripping story but also a unique, dark and claustrophobic atmosphere that is still effective to this day. The cat-and-mouse game between the crew and the alien creates tension and suspense, and left viewers on the edge of their seats. Alien was one of the films that transformed sci-fi horror films and established the genre.
4. Psycho (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Psycho, is often hailed as one of the greatest films of all time. This 1960 movie revolves around a grisly killing in a hotel that leads to a series of disturbing events. The film follows Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), a Phoenix secretary who steals $40,000 from her employers, only to fall prey to Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who runs a motel. This movie doesn’t just rely on shock value with its brutal scenes; Hitchcock builds suspense from the moment Marion arrives at her last known destination, with a tap of music and silence.
The extreme suspense is built through careful cinematography, dramatic sound effects and rich dialogue. The timelessness of the film is also a testament to its quality, as it still stands as an example of the best of Hitchcock’s work and the most influential suspense thriller films.
5. Zodiac (2007)
Zodiac is David Fincher’s 2007 film about the unsolved Zodiac Killer murders that plagued San Francisco in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is a film filled with suspense, tension, and a sense of dread as the characters investigate the atrocities done by the mysterious killer. Most of this suspense is delivered by skillfully crafted suspense sequences. Fincher uses sound, cinematography and careful build up to deliver an edge-of-the-seat experience for viewers, making the final resolution all the more shocking when it does arrive.
Given the subject matter, coupled with Fincher’s skillset, Zodiac ended up being an intense pacing and nerve-wracking experience. As the search for the killer drags on, the audience’s anticipation also builds.
This list is nowhere near exhaustive. Other classic suspense thriller films include The Silence of the Lambs, Memento, The Sixth Sense, The Others and The Usual Suspects. It is hard to argue the impact these films have had in the genre and in cinema in general. For any film enthusiast, these five films are a “must see”.