As a lifelong fan of the thriller/horror genre, I am always on the lookout for new films that offer surprises. If you are too, here are a few I’ve seen over the past year or so that you might find interesting.
Otis (2008) – Let me preface this description by saying this is a dark comedy. After a teenage cheerleader is captured and tortured by a psychopath named Otis, she escapes and tells her parents about the ordeal, and they vengefully decide to take matters into their own hands. Illeana Douglas was a perfect choice for the mom, and many will remember star Ashley Johnson, now grown, as the kid (Chrissy) inserted into Growing Pains to boost ratings during the show’s final years. I wonder if she’s still friends with Leonardo DiCaprio, also formerly of Growing Pains.
Closure (2007) – X-Files fans may see Gillian Anderson in a new light after watching this film about a couple who seeks revenge when they are attacked by a gang of hunters on their way home from a party. Anderson, who lived in England for more than a year as a child, knows how to work an authentic Brit accent.
Across the Hall (2009) – In yet another of Murphy’s last films, a man calls his best friend to tell him he’s followed his cheating fiance and her unseen lover into a hotel. He says he’s stationed in a room across the hall from her and plans to kill them both. So things become understandably tense for his best friend, who is revealed as the unseen cheater.
Julia (2009) – Some actors are interesting to watch because they aren’t cookie-cutter, and I think Tilda Swinton is a great example. In Julia, she creates a unique and seemingly ruthless character who tries to extort money using a young boy as bait. This is one movie they’ll be discussing for years in feminist film classes.
Havoc (2005) – Bijou Phillips has proven herself as another unpredictably interesting actor, and Havoc – a story about a group of bored, privileged teenagers who go looking for trouble and find it – was worth viewing. Anne Hathaway is also in this movie.
Bronson (2009) – I wasn’t really sure if I would like it, but the passionate and comical, yet disturbing performance of actor Tom Hardy as “Britain’s most violent prisoner” captivates the viewer in this true story about Michael Peterson, 19, who was born violent and fame-hungry. Known by his alter ego “Charles Bronson,” Peterson has spent 34 years in jail, with 30 in solitary confinement.
Nine Dead (2010) – I’ve always found psychological thrillers that involve a confined group of people who don’t know each other interesting, which is why I thought I’d enjoy seeing M. Night Shyamalan’s Devil last year. Unfortunately, I did not. Nine Dead is a better example of this plot device. When nine strangers are kidnapped by a masked gunman and locked in a room together, they soon realize they have to communicate with one another and find out how they are connected in order to save their lives. Otherwise, one will die every 10 minutes. You even get to see a different side of Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina the Teenage Witch) in this movie.
Alexandra’s Project (2005) – This is a suspenseful film about a man who comes home to celebrate his birthday, and instead discovers that his wife and children are not there. He soon finds a videotape his wife has made, and as he watches, disturbing layers begin to unfold.
Train (2008) – Thora Birch is a solid actress who, like actor Jeremy Sisto, often finds herself in bad movies that are beneath her. She is the only reason I decided to give this movie a chance. I typically don’t like gory movies like Saw and Hostel, but if you’re a fan of them, you might like this one.
Let the Right One In (2008) – I didn’t see the American version of this vampire movie, but the Swedish version was pretty good. Set in the early 1980s, it tells the story of a boy bullied by schoolmates who befriends a vampire child.
Them (2006) – In recent years, I have increasingly begun to admire European horror films because they seem less formulaic and predictable. This one starts quietly, but tension soon builds. When a teacher at a French school in Bucharest returns to her isolated country home and turns in for the night, she and her husband are awakened by strange noises. Their car is stolen, and they begin to realize predators are on their property. Not sure if it’s a true story, but that is implied at the end.
See the Sea (1997) – There are no happy endings in this French thriller, but the director experiments with silent suggestions and implied visuals that are effectively disturbing. Sasha, a young British woman, is living with her baby in a beach community when a strange woman appears and asks if she can temporarily camp out in Sasha’s yard. Sasha’s husband is away on business, so she befriends the woman, which proves to be a bad idea.
TimberFalls (2007) – This isn’t a bad example of a Deliverance-genre film . . . if Deliverance is a good example of cinema? (Ha!) It’s about a couple’s weekend camping trip in the mountains that is interrupted by deranged locals.
Moon (2009) – This is one of the best science fiction films I’ve seen in a while. Few, if any, measure up to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, but Moon is a worthy competitor. Sam Rockwell, who may be the best character actor since Gary Oldman, stars as Sam Bell, an astronaut who has spent three years on the moon working with a supercomputer like HAL named GERTY.