Thrillers have been around ever since Alfred Hitchcock came up with The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, a 1927 silent movie loosely based on the gruesome tales of Jack the Ripper (a mysterious serial killer who haunted the dingiest areas of London during the late 19th century.) Since then, the genre has undergone endless mutations, each one resulting in a fresh perspective.
Although Thrillers are technically meant to appeal to the viewer’s basest senses — excitement, fear, anxiety in a controlled setting — there have been a decent number of cinematically fantastic examples as well. Some of them merit more than one viewing, and a few actually reveal more about the story with each rewatch.
10 Parasite (2019)
The cinematic genius of Bong Joon-ho is visible in most of his work, but none as much as the Oscar-winning Parasite. This movie is not very complicated at first glance, and seems to be about the interrelationships between class in South Korea.
However, on closer observation, one realizes that Parasite is actually two films packaged as one, the informal version of events that describes the story as is, and the overtones of power differential that try to answer the real question: Who exactly is the parasite here?
9 Jaws (1975)
Jaws defined the summer blockbuster era when it came out in 1975; its influence is far-ranging and has had an impact on a number of popular filmmakers in recent years. The terror that emanates from the movie is wrapped within the ocean itself, where the danger lurks unseen and uncontrollable.
The tiers of family and social narrative interspersed with the scenes of violent gore sharpen the viewer’s eye, forcing them to acknowledge the very human consequences that arise when natural environments are altered. Interestingly, Jaws had the reverse effect on audiences, by making them afraid of going to beaches as well as by “inspiring” hordes of fisherman to murder random innocent sharks.
8 Don’t Breathe (2016)
Don’t Breathe is the thematic equivalent of Bird Box (2018), except that it takes place almost entirely within the boundaries of a single house. Two thieves try to rob who they assume is an old blind war veteran, but learn to their dismay that the geriatric is far shrewder (and a lot more aggressive) than most men of his age.
The notion of subverted horror that governs the course of this film is quite unique, considering that it practically flips the positions of antagonist and protagonist in a single seamless move. Watching it once or twice is hardly sufficient to grasp all of its nuances, to be perfectly honest.
7 The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
The Silence of the Lambs is a masterpiece thriller — starting with the unseemly relationship that develops between the FBI agent and the cannibal psychiatrist with a smooth tongue, and ending with the former achieving a semblance of peace at the conclusion of the film (when the bleating lambs in her tortured memory are silenced, so to speak.)
The narrative bounces from idea to idea, from Buffalo Bill to Clarice Starling, from Hannibal Lecter to Jack Crawford, and every single bond that is formed in this movie has a bearing on how the ending can be interpreted.
6 Memories Of Murder (2003)
Bong Joon-ho is quite proficient in this genre, with Memories of Murder being his second directorial attempt ever. The film is a shining example of what happens when cinematography, screenplay, and acting are in perfect sync with each other.
Although based on a series of real events, Memories of Murder almost seems larger than life in the precision of its cultural detailing, from the casual misogyny rampant in ’80s Korean society to the corruption within the system of law enforcement destroying any semblance of democratic decency. In all honesty, it is quite a lot to take in the first time.
5 Arrival (2016)
Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival should be rewatched for many reasons, but one of the biggest ones is that it is so convoluted in expression that it might not even make sense the first time. It deals with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which suggests that the elements of communication have a permanent impact on the neuro-cognitive faculties of its speakers, a difficult concept to comprehend by itself.
Further, the realization that the extraterrestrial language is meant to help humanity observe events outside the scope of time might be a brilliant climax, but necessitates more than one sitting to fully absorb.
4 Fargo (1996)
Fargo won Frances McDormand her first Academy Award, and there is absolutely no doubt that she deserved every inch of that shiny golden statuette. Directed and scripted by the Coen Brothers, it follows a pregnant cop trying to identify the real story behind a seemingly obvious murder (it turns out to be a hired abduction for ransom that goes seriously wrong.)
At the surface, Fargo appears to be a cut and dry plot of a man in debt and a rich father-in-law who hates him, but it is the subtleties of Minnesotan tone and dialect that give the movie a perfect finish.
3 No Country For Old Men (2007)
Another Coen brothers film, No Country for Old Men received considerably more acclaim than Fargo, even though the latter was praised to the skies. Adapted from a story by Cormac McCarthy, it doesn’t have a plot so much as exposes the various complexities in human behavior through a loosely-packed narrative.
No Country for Old Men considers several motifs — destiny, morality, impulsivity — each of which spreads a thick layer of meaning over a gorgeous panorama of the Texan desert. The more one watches this movie, the more one comes to perceive how all its moving parts work in sync.
2 Memento (2000)
Christopher Nolan’s first major piece of cinematic art, Memento, thrilled critics and audiences in equal measure when it was released. The concept of anterograde amnesia, originating in a Jonathan Nolan short story, is displayed through carefully carved out film edits, which tell the story in the order that the protagonist experiences it.
Leonard Shelby’s journey to identify whoever murdered his wife is rife with problems, mostly because of his condition, but he manages to find his way to the end with a complex strategy involving polaroids and hastily acquired tattoos. Memento is so extraordinary that one could watch it twice back to back and still not pick up on every detail.
1 Zodiac (2007)
Zodiac told the tale of the famous Zodiac Killer, a still-at-large serial predator who murdered a number of people, and then sent cryptic/mocking notes to the police and the media. The cinematography is sublime, from bullet casings crisply collapsing on a taxicab floor to spurts of shimmering blood staining a car windscreen, all of it taking place in slow motion.
Zodiac doesn’t have a storyline as knotty as some of the others mentioned above, but the technical poise in the filmmaking process as well make it a wonderful movie to see over and over again.
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