Breaking Down the Best Thrillers on Netflix
Any fan of thriller movies understands the complexity inherent in creating successful works in the genre. From tones that simultaneously build suspense and keep audiences on the edges of their seats, to writing that keeps viewers engaged, but not distracted, there’s a method to the madness of a good thriller. Here we’ll take a closer look at what makes a thriller stand out, and some of the top choices on Netflix right now.
To break down the integral elements of a great thriller movie, we can use tension as the starting point. In the most successful thrillers, the tension is so high that it is presented almost continuously throughout the movie, without compromising on moments of calm or intrigue. To find that balance, the rhythm of scenes must be carefully planned and executed, while abrupt changes in energy, mood, and tone all come into play. In regards to writing and plotting, a skillful storyteller can control the tension, allowing a certain degree of resolution of plot points, while also managing the mystery so that some surprises still remain for the audience.
Of course, visuals and sound are also crucial in creating tension within a thriller movie, as evidenced in iconic works such as The Shining or Silence of the Lambs. Here long-lens shots, low visibility, suspenseful music, and sound mixing can create the necessary atmosphere for emotional responses that elevate a thriller to the next level.
Looking at some of the best thrillers currently available on Netflix, the list includes movies of all genres, languages, and levels of suspense. For this purpose, we’ll look at three top picks that really take advantage of the features mentioned above: Inception, Contact, and Shutter Island.
Inception is a highly-acclaimed mindbending thriller released in 2010. It follows a team of thieves hired to enter the dreams of their victims and plant a thought there. Complex plot points, stunning visuals, and creative plotting provide a unique experience that has had viewers in suspense since its release.
Contact, released in 1997, is a science fiction film that follows a radio astronomer played by Jodie Foster. After contact is made with an extraterrestrial race, Foster’s character finds herself as the spokesperson for humanity as she embarks on an interplanetary journey. From its wildly inventive plot to its introspective musings, Contact can be deemed a classic thrilling experience.
Last but certainly not least, Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island released in 2010 is a psychological thriller and works as a distinct example of a different type of Hitchcockian thrillers. With intense scenes and a captivating mystery, the film proves that thrillers don’t always have to be fast-paced and complex in plot to be effective.
Building Suspense: A Masterclass
Thrillers, whether they are suspenseful or psychological, require a certain level of finesse when it comes to building suspense. This means playing with the audience’s expectations, misguiding them at times, and building up the tension until the eventual resolution. As an audience member, you may be left feeling emotionally and intellectually exhausted, yet satisfied that you’ve experienced something unique.
The key to building tension in thrillers lies in maintaining the pace of a story and constantly throwing information at the viewer, encouraging them to actively participate in the plot. Interesting and unpredictable plot twists can also keep the audience engaged, as can artistic choices such as lighting, music and cinematography.
Movies such as Black Swan and The Prestige present a perfect example of this. By manifesting tension throughout the film and offering scenes that are both mysterious and powerful, they both manage to be thrilling without ever being predictable or boring.
Though a lot of thrillers use the same conventions, most filmmakers know how to adapt those conventions to produce something new. Bringing the story to life means pushing boundaries and sometimes, even presenting scenes that don’t directly contribute to the plot, but rather create a mood that is similar to that of a real-life experience.
What also can’t be forgotten is the importance of music in thrillers. Legendary composers such as Bernard Herrmann or John Williams have been able to use sound to plunge audiences into the depths of terror and drama. In particular, Herrmann and Hitchcock’s collaborations have shown just how effective and integral a soundtrack can be to the creation of a thrilling experience.
An Action-Packed Ride
Action movies have often been dubbed “thrillers in disguise,” and that comparison is likely due to their shared set of conventions- dynamic pacing, exciting stunts and intense soundtracks. While they have a lot of similarities, there are also notable differences between the two genres, such as the fact that action movies tend to be more fast-paced and often have a higher body count.
When looking at some of the best action thrillers currently streaming on Netflix, a few can be seen to stand out among the rest. Movies such as John Wick, Atomic Blonde, and The Equalizer seem to increase viewer engagement by introducing elements of a classic action story – such as an underdog in a fight against a powerful adversary – with a deeper thriller plot.
John Wick, for example, tells the story of an ex-hitman trying to take revenge on the people who killed his puppy companion. The Equalizer seats a mysterious protagonist with a past to protect, on a mission to help a young girl in danger. And Atomic Blonde takes us to a dangerous underground of spies and assassins, as a super spy is tasked with recovering stolen data.
These action-packed thrillers are sure to keep audiences on the edge of their seats throughout the duration. With their thrilling action sequences and intense plots, they are sure to spark both adrenaline rushes and intellectual curiosity.
Escapism Taken To The Next Level
As mentioned previously, thriller movies provide a space for viewers to explore themes and concepts that allow them to enter an alternate reality. By doing so, a clear line can be drawn in terms of what one can bleed from the screen. Suspenseful movies that manage to blend genres, such as horror, science fiction, and noir, allow the viewer to explore something that is both familiar, yet novel.
Titles such as Shame and Nosotros Los Nobles provide a perfect example of this type of escapist entertainment. Although both share traits from some classic thrillers – such as a fast-paced story, gripping suspense, and thrilling moments – they subvert the genre in interesting ways.
Shame is a Swedish film that follows a luxurious cruise, narrated mostly in flashbacks. Each character is introduced at the beginning of the film and then follows their various stories as they unfold. This helps create more suspense as each character is slowly revealed and their role in the story becomes more evident.
Nosotros Los Nobles follows a family that has been given the task of becoming ‘noble’ by society. Most of the story focuses on the family’s attempts to maintain their facade while being constantly tested by the luxury, glamour and wealth that surrounds them.
These films create an interesting atmosphere, allowing viewers to explore a world where morality is challenged and social conventions are questioned. In this way, these films offer an escapism that transcends the genre, taking thriller movies to a new level.
The Necessity of Thrillers for Social Awareness
Today, thrillers are often used as a way to address social issues, making them an invaluable tool for cultural awareness. This is especially true when it comes to films such as The Silence of the Lambs and Seven, which bring light to pressing topics such as gender bias, racial injustice and mental health.
The Silence of the Lambs, which tells the story of a young female FBI investigator tasked with catching a serial killer and battling her own inner demons, was one of the first films to tackle the topic of gender bias in the workplace. The film follows Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling as she navigates the patriarchal world of the FBI, giving exposure to the gender imbalance that exists in law enforcement and other industries.
Similarly, Seven touches on a range of social issues, from crime and justice to freedom of expression to mental health and wellness. By presenting a world where moral ambiguity is the norm, Seven encourages viewers to look outside their own perspective and confront the complex web of issues in life.
With its gripping story and bold statements, Seven is not only an entertaining thriller, but also a commentary on the moral questions and struggles of our time. It serves as a powerful reminder that thrillers can be more than just entertainment — they can be political statements.
Continuing to Break Boundaries with Thrillers
At the end of the day, when looking for a new thrill on Netflix, viewers will have choices ranging from classic slashers to political masterpieces. Whatever genre you may choose, it’s important to acknowledge that thrillers are much more than just total escapism.
They often serve as tools for social awareness and reflections on our current norms. So, if you’re looking for something thrilling and thought-provoking, then a good old thriller may just be the solution.