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 2016.
Disaster movies can get a little predictable, but Deepwater Horizon is a very solid example of them. It’s about, as you might expect, the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the eventual oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico. It focuses primarily on the former, choosing to spend a good deal of time with the humans and circumstances involved – which is interesting because it runs counter to how the event was covered in the media.
Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg have teamed up for a trio of “real life thriller” movies, and I’d have to give the edge to Deepwater Horizon as the best of the bunch. It has the best characters and it has the most thrills.
Elle sees Isabelle Huppert play the head of a video game company. She’s raped in her home one day. The assaulter might be someone who works for her – and she refuses to go to the police. There’s something of a cat-and-mouse game at play here, and there are a few really tense sequences, but the film mostly follows Huppert’s character as she deals with the assault, which plays out different from how these are often portrayed. Huppert is fantastic, and the whole thing is unnerving.
I spoke about Green Room when I was discussing the best action movies of 2016, but I hedged that take a little bit because, in truth, it’s more of a horror/thriller.
The entire movie is thrilling – it’s an intense movie with a killer premise and even better execution. It’s got a quick pace, some brutal action, and a very strong atmosphere. It’s about a young punk band trapped in a venue by neo-Nazis. Topical? Yes, sir. Great? Absolutely.
The Handmaiden tells a twisted story of love and deception – while also being one of the most beautiful movies of 2016. It focuses on a Korean handmaiden (obviously), who is hired by a Japanese heiress to live with her. But the handmaiden has other intentions; there’s a nefarious plot afoot. That gets complicated when the handmaiden begins falling for the heiress – or is that just part of the ruse?
It’s a gorgeous movie, it’s got a very engaging plot, the acting is fantastic, and you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next. It’s a Park Chan-wook movie (Oldboy, Stoker), which I think should be enough to make you want to see it already.
Hell or High Water
Hell or High Water is among my top movies of 2016. In terms of cinematography, pacing, plot, acting, atmosphere – it’s a top-notch production and I can’t find much, if any, fault with it. It’s about a couple of brothers who rob banks in order to save the family ranch. The catch? It’s only branches of the bank that’s trying to take the ranch, which is only happening because of unfair play on the bank’s end.
Like I said, it’s a fantastic movie in pretty much all aspects – including a surprisingly great turn from Chris Pine as the lead. He’s been … less than good a lot of the time leading up to Hell or High Water, but here he really lives up to his potential.
Imperium sees Daniel Radcliffe – yes, the guy who played Harry Potter; he does other acting now – play an FBI agent who winds up going undercover in a white supremacist group. That’s … most of the plot right there, really, but it’s a good version of the “undercover cop” story and it’s topical given the current political climate. It also sees Radcliffe in one of his first good post-Potter roles, which is nice to see because, for a while, it didn’t seem like he’d ever break away from the role.
He does it here.
Have you ever been to a family gathering where it feels like everyone is awful and you’re getting stress and anxiety just because you have to show your face? Well, Krisha might be the movie for you, because it covers that. A woman who was previous estranged from her family visits for Thanksgiving … and let’s just say that it isn’t the best of Thanksgiving Days.
Political thrillers sometimes feel dry. Maybe it’s because a lot of them are same-y, or because all of the political discussions can feel stuffy. Miss Sloane counters that by having snappy, rapid-fire dialogue, and having much of it come out of the mouth of Jessica Chastain, playing her best “smartest person in the room” character. It’s an electric movie that has a couple of major twists and turns, great acting, and leaves you with a feeling of elation once it ends.
It also does a very good job of handling the gun control debate. It falls on one side, obviously, but it doesn’t completely disparage the opposition. The plot is about opposing lobbying groups, and winds up getting more personal than political, by the end.
Nocturnal Animals is weird. The opening credits play over a bunch of older, heavier, naked women dancing, and if that’s already off-putting to you, this isn’t for you.
After you get past that, you get a plot that jumps back and forth between reality and a book that a character reads, and you begin to draw parallels between the two. It’s got really great acting and is always engaging, but it’s definitely odd and sometimes a little difficult to follow – especially because of the way the “real” world and the “novel” world start to blend. But it’s tense and there are a few scenes that will shock.
Personal Shopper is the most “art house” thriller on this list. By which I mean, if you’re not okay with a 20-minute sequence in which its protagonists texts with someone who may or may not be a ghost, you’re probably not the right audience for this movie. The truth of the matter is that it’s a thriller, but it’s a slow burning one. It takes its time setting up its characters and the situation, it builds atmosphere, and it never really explodes in the way that you expect these kinds of things to.
It’s about a young woman who works as a personal shopper but also wants to find out if ghosts exist and discover if she can communicate with her brother, who recently died. It’s touching, but it also maybe becomes a stalker movie midway through, and it definitely has its scenes of tension – even if it’s not a pulse-pounding ride from start to finish.