The thriller, close cousin of the horror movie—if not in tone and style then in audience reaction—is a genre designed to get you on the edge of your seat, your heartbeat raised, and your brain engaged. A good thriller is unlike almost any other type of movie in the way that it engages you.
Here are the best thrillers from 2017.
The Bad Batch
The strength of The Bad Batch lies not in its plot or characters but in the world that its director, Ana Lily Amirpour, has created. It’s a meticulously detailed locale, one that’s a post-apocalyptic version of the southern US, a place without rules and where a whole bunch of undesirables are placed in order to roam free. It follows a young woman who gets dumped into this place and has to figure out how to not die. It’s more a mood piece than anything else, but it’s got enough intriguing elements to warrant a watch.
The Belko Experiment
The Belko Experiment sees a company shut down its office building and begin conducting experiments on its employees—if they don’t comply, they will die. The first is “kill two of your co-workers.” This eventually gets bigger and sicker, and the whole thing is pretty tense. It degenerates a bit in its second half, but it’s a suspenseful, thought-provoking movie that’s well worth your time.
Blade Runner 2049
Blade Runner 2049, a worthy sequel to its predecessor, is primarily a neo-noir thriller. It follows Ryan Gosling’s character as he tries to figure out a mystery—as the audience gets to play along. It’s a gorgeous movie that’s intelligent and tense, and is one of the few sequels coming out decades after the original that is anything more than a nostalgia trip.
Not many people saw Detour, the newest thriller from Christopher Smith, whose previous Creep and Triangle are amazing. The former is a horror movie, while the latter is a mind-twisting thriller that will have you engaged and questioning exactly what’s going on practically from its first moment.
Detour tries to replicate the success of Triangle with … mixed results, I suppose. It’s definitely suspenseful, and it’ll have you wondering exactly what’s happening, but it doesn’t all add up as well and its payoff is a bit lacking. Still, as a movie that’ll keep you guessing and thinking for 90 minutes, it’s a success and I enjoyed it.
Dunkirk works as both an action movie and a thriller, and is probably more successful at the latter, if we’re being honest. It drops us in among the various groups who participated in the Dunkirk evacuation, giving us little to work with in terms of characters, and really tries to immerse us and make us feel like we’re there—which is a stressful, but thrilling, time. It’s the type of thing that would be terrifying if you were really there but as an observer through a film lens is a heart-pounding adventure.
I maintain that by jumping back and forth between perspectives and time frames it loses its sense of immersion, but it nonetheless works whenever it settles into telling on of its three stories.
Jackie Chan hasn’t been in a ton of American movies lately, and The Foreigner isn’t one, either—but it is at least in English. It takes place in Europe and follows Chan as a man who wants to find out who the terrorist was who detonated a bomb that killed his daughter. And he’ll stop at nothing to take them down. Kind of like Taken, but the daughter’s dead. This morphs into a political thriller midway through, as there’s cover-up and higher-ups who don’t want the identity made public. Chan’s great in it.
I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore
We don’t think about it too much, but I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize in 2017 before being released a month later on Netflix. We don’t think about it because Netflix is bad at advertising its exclusive movies—except Bright, for some reason.
The point is that I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore is a very good movie. The film is about a woman (Melanie Lynskey) who gets robbed, receives little help from the police, and decides to try to figure out who the burglar is by herself. It’s a tense movie but it’s also darkly funny, especially once she teams up with a character played by Elijah Wood.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
You might not see a weirder movie from 2017—maybe mother!, but even that might not be enough. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a Yorgos Lanthimos movie. He’s a writer-director whose dialogue feels unnatural and whose plots are so bizarre that you can’t look away. This one follows a surgeon whose family begins falling mysteriously ill—after being “cursed” by a teenager he had secretly been meeting (platonically, I should stress, especially in the current Hollywood climate).
It gets weirder from there. Lanthimos is a director whose ever decision is made to make the audience feel put off. You don’t watch one of his movies for comfort, is the point. That’s a feeling so rarely duplicated in the movies, especially movies with strong casts, like this one.
Personal Shopper has a fantastic lead performance from Kristen Stewart. I know the internet has hated her for a while because of the Twilight movies but, outside of those, she’s proven to be a fantastic actor. She delivers one of her best performances here, in a movie where she (1) acts as the personal shopper/assistant for a rich person and (2) tries to locate the ghost of her brother, who recently died due to a heart condition both of them share.
Let’s put it this way: Personal Shopper has a scene on a train that is nothing but texting, and it’s riveting. That’s largely due to Stewart, but director Olivier Assayas deserves a lot of credit, too. This, like The Killing of a Sacred Deer, is a largely off-putting film, but it’ll keep you on your toes.
Wind River is one of the best films of 2017, period. Set on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, it follows a Fish and Wildlife agent and an FBI agent as they try to sole the murder of a young woman. The film adds in some social commentary—with the way that the investigation goes largely ignored by the people whose job it is to care about it—but also winds up being a terrifying and suspenseful mystery. It’s horrific because of its real-world parallels, and thrilling because of what happens over its running time. It also has one of Jeremy Renner’s best performances. It’s so good.