It’s October, and that means it’s a great time to watch a thriller or scary movie.
Every year, I try to compile a list of the best films I’ve seen from this genre. This year, I grouped the most recent films I’ve viewed into 10 categories.
Check out my recommendations, and if you watch one or have seen one of the films I’ve listed, let me know what you thought about it. You can Tweet me at @lareecarucker.
1. Potential Lifetime movies that involve an obsessive, crazy person
My Teacher, My Obsession (2018) – This movie has or should air on Lifetime. Thankfully, (as a college journalism instructor) I have not yet encountered a student who is quite this mentally unstable. When a new girl begins attending the high school where her father has been hired as a new teacher, she befriends another student who turns out to be a crazy person.
Dismissed (2017) – This film also involves an obsessive, crazy student and is set in a high school. Apparently, this kid was never informed that “nobody is perfect,” and that murdering someone won’t look good on your permanent record. A teacher soon realizes his star student is crazy when the boy is willing to do anything to get an A. Dylan Sprouse, one of the twins from the children’s television show The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, gives a great performance as the student.
Inconceivable (2017) – Another example of a good potential Lifetime movie because it involves an obsessive, crazy person with a plot similar to “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.” Angela, a doctor, develops a friendship with a mysterious woman named Katie and offers her a job as a live-in nanny. (Why women in movies hire supermodels to work in their homes with their husbands, I’ll never understand.) Katie becomes overly attached to the family’s young daughter, lies and manipulates the family. Angela and her husband soon realize Katie is whacked.
Unsane (2018) – Hitchcock’s movies often involved characters who were being harassed by crazy people, yet no one believes them. Also sounds a little like American politics. “Unsane” is another potential Lifetime movie involving crazy people with a Hitchcock feel. When a young woman is involuntarily committed to a mental institution, we are left to wonder if she is sane or unsane.
Creep (2015) – Watch out for the guy who seems like everyone’s best buddy. People aren’t always as they seem. When something seems off, trust your instincts. A man answers an online ad to film a stranger for the day who says he’s dying, and things get weird.
2. Films that feature dangerous children
Stephanie (2017) – Remember that old “Twilight Zone” episode called “It’s a Good Life” in which the adults are very cautious about everything they say to a little boy who everyone seems afraid of for some reason? We later find out that when the child has a temper tantrum, he can kill anyone he’s angry with or turn them into inanimate objects with his mind. “Stephanie” is a reimagining of the same concept. After a mysterious global crisis, a young girl is left alone to hide from something that stalks her home. Shree Crooks is believable as “Stephanie.”
Prodigy (2017) – Like “Stephanie,” this is another movie with a dangerous child who has extraordinary mental gifts and supernatural powers. Savannah Liles gives an interesting performance as a young genius.
Before I Wake (2017) – Another story about a dangerous child with supernatural powers. In the end, the film teaches us that real love can heal. Internet description: “Foster parents Mark and Jessie welcome 8-year-old Cody into their home. The boy tells Jessie that he’s terrified to fall asleep, but she assumes it’s just a natural fear for any young child. The couple become startled when their dead biological son suddenly appears in their living room. To their surprise, Cody’s dreams can magically become real, but so can his nightmares. Mark and Jessie must now uncover the truth behind Cody’s mysterious ability before his imagination harms them all.”
3. Black comedy/horror
Little Evil (2017) – While we’re on the topic of dangerous children, a newly married man begins to believe that his 5-year-old stepson is the spawn of Satan. A black comedy with great performances.
The Babysitter (2017) – Another black comedy that is pretty funny and unexpected. It’s perhaps the antithesis of “Adventures in Babysitting.”
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017) – Another black comedy with great performances. Internet description: “After being burglarized, a depressed woman (Melanie Lynskey) and her obnoxious neighbor set out to find the thieves, but they soon find themselves up against a group of dangerous criminals.”
4. Adventure seeking that turns deadly, camping trip thrillers, and man vs. nature stories
Chernobyl Diaries (2012) – I would love to hop on a plane, land in a foreign country and go wandering around on adventures. However, one of the things that prevents me from being a spontaneous, adventure-seeking traveler in foreign countries are movies like “Chernobyl Diaries.” That’s because road trip and travel movies – where people throw caution to the wind and embrace their freedom – never turn out very well. My radar would probably go off a bit if one of my friends asked me if I wanted to spend some time in Chernobyl, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster in the Ukraine. Since it was the worst accident in the history of nuclear power, I might question whether that was a good idea before jumping in a vehicle with a random “extreme” tour guide. This decision does not prove wise for a group of young tourists hoping for a unique adventure.
The Green Inferno (2015) – If you like gore, which I don’t, you will probably like this film from Eli Roth. It’s another horror film that involves a group of young, adventurous people who find themselves in a bit of trouble with cannibals.
Desolation (2017) – There’s something intriguing about watching a thriller set in the woods. Because there are many with this theme, it’s interesting to see what the director will do differently in a similar, limited setting. “Desolation” is a good example of a road trip/camping-in-the-wilderness thriller and coming-of-age-story. Internet description: “A young mother goes into a remote wilderness area with her son and her best friend to scatter her late husband’s ashes. On their trek home, they realize a lone hiker has been following them. After a series of disturbing encounters, they are forced to confront their deepest fears when the stranger’s true motives are revealed.”
Backcountry (2015) – Another camping trip story. Movies that involve man or woman against nature can be scary. Two female friends go camping and become lost. The trip turns into a fight for survival when they are stalked by a man-eating bear.
Killing Ground (2017) – Another camping trip gone awry, but compelling. Probably the best of the three I’ve mentioned here and often listed among the top thrillers of 2017. A couple who goes on a camping trip must fight for survival in the Australian woods.
The Shallows (2016) – It’s probably not a good idea to go to an unnamed beach in a remote location when you have no cell phone reception, surf giant waves and swim alone, but bad decisions make great thrillers. And there are sharks, which are always scary. This is another water-related, man/woman against nature/beast film. While surfing, Nancy (Blake Lively) finds herself stalked by a great white shark, and she must be smart to survive.
A Quiet Place (2018) – I couldn’t help but wonder if this film would have been more effective if the “monsters” were replaced by animals. Perhaps noise could stir all the animals and make them attack like in “The Birds” and other man vs. nature films. Great performances. It’s also interesting to note that with this film and “10 Cloverfield Lane,” we see a feminist ending. The victims/survivors in both films are women who soldier-up and vow to fight the enemy. Internet description: “In this terrifyingly suspenseful thriller, a family must navigate their lives in silence to avoid mysterious creatures that hunt by sound. Hailed by critics and audiences around the world, experience the must-see movie of the year.”
5. Psychological thrillers involving abuse
Room (2016) – I’m not sure how well child actor Jacob Tremblay fared at the Oscars, even though children like Anna Paquin have picked up awards in the past, but his performance carried this movie. Internet description: “Held captive for years in an enclosed space, a woman (Brie Larson) and her young son (Jacob Tremblay) finally gain their freedom, allowing the boy to experience the outside world for the first time.”
The Sinner (2017) – This was an intriguing series with a great performance by Jessica Biel. Although it seemed like there were a few facts in the movie that didn’t quite add up in the end, it keeps the viewer interested until the final episode. The series is also about how abuse that results in feelings of shame can make survivors feel guilty for things they aren’t responsible for, and things aren’t always as they seem. Internet description: “In the first season, Detective Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) delves into the past of a troubled young mother (Jessica Biel) in order to determine why she fatally stabbed a man during a beach outing, but has no memory of why she committed the crime.”
Gerald’s Game (2017) – Written by Stephen King, the story is a little like “Misery,” but we learn about the character’s history and what has led her to her current unfortunate situation. Internet description: “A woman accidentally kills her husband during a kinky game. Handcuffed to her bed with no hope of rescue, she begins hearing voices and seeing strange visions.”
1922 (2017) – Great period piece thriller about greed and its consequences set almost 100 years ago. Good performances. Internet description. “A rancher conspires to murder his wife for financial gain and convinces his teenage son to participate.”
The Girl on the Train (2016) – Pretty interesting story. However, I doubt the wife/girlfriend at the end would have been willing to believe the lead character so quickly. Internet description: “Based on the bestselling thriller, Rachel (Emily Blunt) sees something shocking happen from her daily commute and becomes entangled in the mystery that unfolds.”
6. Zombie and apocalypse thrillers
The Girl With All the Gifts – (2017) British zombie movies seem to be a bit more frightening, and this one will remind you of the “28 Days Later” film franchise. Internet description: “Six-time Academy Award nominee Glenn Close stars in a post-apocalyptic story about a devastating disease that eradicates free will and turns its victims into flesh-eating ‘hungries.'”
Cargo (2017) – There have been many zombie movies made in the last 10 or 15 years that were, surprisingly, pretty well done and semi-believable. “Cargo,” a 2017 Australian post-apocalyptic drama thriller, is a good example of the genre that deals with concepts of morality and ethics, even in bleak circumstances.
Into the Forest (2016) – Another apocalyptic survival film. Ellen Page, who has been brilliant since she was a child in the thriller “Hard Candy,” stars as one of two sisters who must fight to survive a terrifying global blackout.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) – A great thriller that keeps you guessing with an incredibly smart woman as the lead character who is determined to survive and able to outwit others. Internet description: “After a car crash, a woman wakes up in a survivalist’s bunker. He claims to have saved her from an apocalyptic attack but, growing suspicious of his motives, she’ll have to escape to discover the truth in this heart-pounding new thriller from J.J. Abrams.”
7. Technology thrillers
Friend Request (2016) – If you liked “The Ring,” you will probably like this film that also uses technology as a method of haunting people. While it was with a videotape in “The Ring,” “Friend Request” uses social media. Be careful who you befriend on Facebook! Internet description: “Laura is a popular college student who graciously accepts an online friend request from Marina, a young social outcast. To everyone’s shock, Marina takes her own life after Laura decides to unfriend her. Soon, a disturbing and mysterious video appears on Laura’s profile, and her contacts slowly dwindle. When her friends suddenly begin to die one by one, the frightened young woman must figure out a way to stop the carnage before it’s too late.”
Bad Match (2017) – Another example of a technology horror film. This one involves online dating. The main character does a lot of psychological projecting and objectifying, and as a result, misses an opportunity to have a real relationship with someone who genuinely likes him. The film also proves that assumptions can be destructive. Internet description: “Harris seems to have it all: a great job, plenty of friends, and an active sex life thanks to a range of dating apps. But all this changes when he matches with Riley, a girl who’s hiding something sinister.”
Black Mirror Season 4 – Watch it. Although I didn’t enjoy it as much as previous seasons that focused more on social media, the idea that near future technology could potentially be frightening is relevant in today’s culture. Season 4 is mind-bending and seems to focus on brain implants, and electronic copies and simulations of people that live in a virtual world, yet have a life of their own.
8. Mind-bending alternate universe and time travel thrillers
The Cloverfield Paradox (2018) – A pretty good space movie involving alternate realities with an unexpected ending. Internet description: “Orbiting above an Earth on the brink of catastrophic energy wars, scientists test a dangerous device that could provide unlimited power, but also runs the risk of creating a terrifying paradox, leaving them face-to-face with a dark alternate reality.”
Coherence (2014) – If you’re looking for mind-bending films, you might enjoy this take on multiverse and alternate realities. Internet description: “In this mind-bending sci-fi thriller, eight friends at a dinner party start experiencing strange and mysterious events on the night a comet is passing close to Earth. Soon it becomes clear that nothing and no one are what they appear.”
Dark (2017) – This is a fantastic German series about time travel you don’t want to miss if you like science fiction. It also involves time traveling back to the 1980s, which is a cool decade to revisit. Internet description: “When two children go missing in a small German town, its sinful past is exposed along with the double lives and fractured relationships that exist among four families as they search for the kids. The mystery-drama series introduces an intricate puzzle filled with twists that includes a web of curious characters, all of whom have a connection to the town’s troubled history — whether they know it or not. The story includes supernatural elements that tie back to the same town in 1986. ‘Dark’ represents the first German original series produced for Netflix.”
9. Haunting and evil spirit/films with commentary about women in society
Alias Grace (2017) – Great miniseries with outstanding performances that will haunt you. Internet description: “Based on the 1996 Margaret Atwood novel of the same name, ‘Alias Grace’ tells the story of young Grace Marks, a poor Irish immigrant and domestic servant in Upper Canada who is accused and convicted of the 1843 murder of her employer and his housekeeper. Stablehand James McDermott is also convicted of the crime. McDermott is hanged, but Grace is sentenced to life in prison, leading her to become one of the most notorious women of the period in Canada. The story is based on actual 19th-century events.”
Hereditary (2018) – One of the worst horror/thriller movies I’ve ever seen. Surprised that it has reputable actors attached to it. They seemed to have had no knowledge of where the film was headed, no pun intended. I question whether the good reviews for this film were purchased or are “bots.” Internet description: “When Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family, passes away, her daughter and grandchildren begin to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry, trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited.”
The Witch (2016) – Another film that explores womanhood and horror. It’s interesting how some humans have historically associated prosperity with religious devotion and loss and despair with evil. Some still do. Anya Taylor-Joy shines in this film. Internet description: “In this exquisitely made and terrifying new horror film, the age-old concepts of witchcraft, black magic and possession are innovatively brought together to tell the intimate and riveting story of one family’s frightful unraveling in the New England wilderness circa 1630.”
Goodnight Mommy (2015) – In recent years, there have been a few films that explore the idea of motherhood and horror. “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Exorcist” are classics that do. “The Babadook” is a modern take. Don’t miss “Goodnight Mommy,” a must see for any horror/thriller movie fan. Internet description: “In this terrifying thriller, twin boys play a dangerous game of make-believe that blurs the line between nightmare and reality as they start to doubt whether their mother, recovering from cosmetic surgery, is really who she says she is.”
10. Worth watching
The Midnight Meat Train (2008) – Not the best movie, but fans of horror, thriller, and Bradley Cooper genres may be interested in seeing it. Again, characters in horror movies don’t usually make the best decisions. I would not choose to follow a murderer around New York City taking pictures of him, but Bradley Cooper believes this is a good idea. In the end, he should have asked me for advice. Internet description: “When struggling photographer Leon Kaufman (Bradley Cooper) meets the owner of a prominent art gallery, he sees a chance for the success that has, so far, eluded him. Determined to show the darker side of humanity for his debut showing, Leon crosses paths with Mahogany (Vinnie Jones) a serial killer who preys on late-night subway commuters. His fascination with Mahogany pulls him – and his lover (Leslie Bibb) – deep into an evil abyss.”
XX (2017) – If you like horror anthologies, you will probably want to check these out. “The Box” was my favorite of the four. Internet description: “Filmmakers Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin and Karyn Kusama present four horrific tales of terror. In ‘The Box,’ a boy (Peter DaCunha) starts to display strange behavior after looking inside a mysterious gift box. In ‘The Birthday Party,’ a woman (Melanie Lynskey) refuses to let an untimely death ruin her son’s bash. In ‘Don’t Fall,’ an innocent camping trip turns deadly, and in ‘Her Only Living Son,’ a mother (Christina Kirk) must deal with the child from hell.”
Before I Go to Sleep (2017) – Internet description – “Ever since a vicious attack nearly claimed her life, Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) has suffered from anterograde amnesia and is unable to form new memories. Every morning, she becomes reacquainted with her husband, Ben (Colin Firth), and the other constants in her life. In accordance with her doctor’s (Mark Strong) instructions, Christine keeps a video diary. As Christine starts to uncover terrifying truths about her past, she begins to question everything – and everyone – around her.”
The Invitation (2015) – Internet description: “While attending a dinner party at his former house, a man (Logan Marshall-Green) starts to believe that his ex-wife (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband (Michiel Huisman) have sinister plans for the guests.”
The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2016) – Starring Emma Roberts and Kiernan Shipka (of “Mad Men”). Internet description: “Two girls must fight a mysterious evil force at a deserted prep school in this terrifying horror film.”
Here are a few more posts about thrillers you may find interesting if you’re looking for one to watch this Halloween: