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From Yorgos Lanthimos to Martin Scorsese: The 10 best psychological thrillers on Netflix (February 2021)

If you are tired of watching horror flicks and their innumerable jumpscares and are looking for films that would stir your sense of reason and make you question reality, worry not. Psychological thrillers are going to help you achieve that level of serotonin. Not every film can be a good psychological thriller. They need to be a perfect balance of horror and unexpected endings to be one. 

Netflix boasts an amazing selection of films across all genres. It has a wonderful collection of psychological thrillers as well. From themes that deal with sexual harassment cases to mothers avenging their children’s deaths, the films are extremely engaging and addictive. While some of the films are classics like Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Shutter Island, Netflix also has an amazing collection from relatively newer directors such as Yorgos Lanthimos, Susanne Bier and more. 

This Valentine’s Day, do away with the cliches of watching rom-coms with your significant other. Instead, grab a bowl of popcorn and dig into these 10 best psychological thrillers streaming on Netflix now. 

Let’s get started. 

10 best psychological thrillers on Netflix:

10. The Perfection (Richard Shepard, 2018) 

The Perfection is a psychological horror-thriller film where one of the protagonists, Charlotte Willmore, a talented cellist, has to leave the prestigious music school, Bachoff, to care for her ailing mother, and is replaced by the young protégé, Lizzie. Years later, Charlotte reconnects with her teachers, Anton and his wife, Paloma at Shanghai, and is introduced to Lizzie. After a passionate rendezvous, they take a trip to explore rural China, where Lizzie falls sick and has to amputate her arm. What follows is a gripping narrative where years of repression and childhood trauma leads to the girls’ exacting revenge.  

The film is well-crafted and accurately exposes the abusive cult practices that go on in music schools where they “groom” young children to become adult prodigies. Charlotte and Lizzie’s methods of avenging their slaughtered innocence may at times seem quite far-fetched, the ending is nevertheless satisfying. Brilliant performances and well-designed aesthetics complement the narrative with all its twists and turns make The Perfection a compelling watch. 

“The only thing that separates any one of us from excellence is fear, and the opposite of fear is faith. I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence I can reach for, perfection is God´s business.” 

9. The Invitation (Karyn Kusama, 2015) 

After the accidental death of their son Ty, Eden and Will divorce each other. Two years later, WIll takes his girlfriend to Eden and her new husband, David,s party; Eden and David befriended each other at a grief camp. As Will wanders his former home, pondering over the various pain-inducing memories associated with it, he witnesses several events. As the night progresses, he is convinced that Eden and David have sinister plans for the party group.  

A classic dinner-arty-from hell, the film has an interesting take on grief, depression and general distrust of the world. The general air of vulnerability is enshrouded in cult-like insanity. The slow-burning aspect of the film is scary yet satisfying as it shows how people take different measures to help their loved ones while coping with their grief and loss.  

“It’s not about grief or counselling or family. It’s about fucking denial.”

8. Cam (Isa Mazzei, 2018)

Alice Ackerman is a camgirl who broadcasts sexually explicit videos of herself on the web to make money for herself. She desperately wants to reach the top position and goes to extreme lengths to do that. However, she soon finds out that another camgirl, who is a replica of hers, is accessing the account and pretending to be her. As she tries to track does this doppelganger, she spirals down into a world of danger and crime. 

Madeline Brewer does total justice to her role as the camgirl who would go to any extent to advance in her career. This film focuses on a major issue involving identity theft. The suspenseful atmosphere of the film is filled with horror and thrill. The world of camming and the downsides to it are well-exposed. Obsession is another key theme. The film is a must-watch for thriller fans who also enjoy unexpected sequences. 

“You stole my face, and now I’m going to get it back.”

7. Gerald’s Game (Mike Flanagan, 2017) 

Adapted from the master of horror, Stephen King’s novel of the same name, Gerald’s Game begins with a couple, Jessie and Gerald going on a trip to an isolated cabin in Alabama, desperately trying to salvage their strained relationship. While they indulge in kinky foreplay which later turns out to be Gerald’s sinister rape fantasy, Jessie struggles to free herself.  An enraged Gerald argues with her and suddenly suffers a massive heart attack, and falls on to the floor, leaving Jessie restrained in handcuffs. What follows is Jessie’s harrowing tale of survival amidst hallucinations, dehydration, hunger pangs and claustrophobic inner demons.  

It is a violent and disturbing rollercoaster which showcases the confusion and frenzy of the human mind while oscillating between accepting and denying the morbid reality. The film is lucid in its exploration of childhood trauma and abuse which seeps into adulthood and exists as an ugly manifestation and constant reminder of the dreadful past.  Carla Gugino, despite her physically restrained role, is terrific. She does a stellar job in portraying the emotional turmoil, vulnerability, withering sanity and terror Jessie due to isolation. The abuse perpetrated by men in her life at various stages moves the audience. Flanagan is at his absolute best, and as King himself said, the film’s rough cut was “hypnotic, horrifying and terrific”. 

“This monster was real, real as they come.” 

6. Bird Box (Susanne Bier, 2018)

In a post-apocalyptic world, a mysterious force is vanquishing the population. If they see it, it takes the form of their worst fear and they die. In a desperate attempt to survive, a woman named Malorie must undertake a tumultuous journey with her children across a forest and down the river. However, this daunting journey has to be undertaken blindfolded until they reach a safer haven. 

A perpetual fear exists. The film revolves around themes of love and loss and a desperate need for survival. Sandra Bullock is brilliant as Malorie. The film is hopeful in a way as they ultimately find peace in a sanctuary but it leaves us with a lot of thoughts to ponder on. Malorie’s anxiety and anguish are palpable; she wants nothing other than taking her children to a safe sanctuary. A lot is left unsaid to cause more anxiety.

“Listen to me, we’re going on a trip now, it’s going to be rough.”

5. Hush (Mike Flanagan, 2016)

Maddie Young is deaf due to a childhood complication. She goes to a secluded cabin to clear her mind and write to advance in her career as an author. However, she becomes a victim of a home invasion when a bloodthirsty intruder goes on a killing spree, teasing her and challenging her. It is up to Maddie to survive the night using her survival instincts. 

A classic kill-or-be-killed thriller peppered with gruesome violence makes this a classic psychological thriller film. Kate Siegel plays the deaf author whose predicament makes us flinch and grip on to our seats in fear. The intruder is ruthless, the scenes are bloody and the entire film is an ordeal that cannot be endured by the weakest of hearts. The unbelievable suspense complementing the film along with the unexpected jumpscares will make you double-check your doors and windows every time you are home.  

“I can come in anytime I want. And I can get you, anytime I want. But I’m not going to. Not until it’s time. When you wish you’re dead… that’s when I’ll come inside.”

4. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2017)

If you are looking for a film that will unsettle you with its cold and distant acting performances as well as the overall claustrophobic atmosphere, Lanthimos’ creation is the film for you. With unbelievably surreal cinematography, this idiosyncratic work of Lanthimos sends chills down one’s spine. Engaging and interesting, the story is somewhat inspired by Euripedes’ Greek tragedy Iphigenia at Aulis

Steven is a cardiologist who leads a somewhat normal life with his wife Anna and his children Kim and Bob. Martin, who lost his father, copes with his grief by talking to Steven; Martin’s enigma leaves an impression upon the family, especially Kim who is sitten by him. Soon, Steven’s children start falling ill with weird unexplainable illnesses and Martin reveals a shocking fact. Steven can save only one child but as a father can he ever choose between his children? 

“A surgeon never kills a patient. An anesthesiologist can kill a patient, but a surgeon never can.”

3. Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010)

US Marshal Teddy Daniels and his newly assigned partner, Chuck Aule, travel to the Ashcliffe Hospital on a remote island to investigate the disappearance of the patient. As Teddy delves deeper into the investigation, he realises the sinister nature of the asylum and its inmates; he must confront the ghosts of his past as well as his fears to be able to successfully leave the island.

Intense and unsettling, Shutter Island is one of Scorsese’s most phenomenal yet underrated works. Provocative, the film challenges the sanity of the viewers. He pervasive gloom and anxiety is heightened by Leo’s outstanding performance as Teddy Daniels, a man haunted by his traumatic past. Mark Ruffalo adds a brilliant dimension to the former. Scorsese pulls off the greatest plot twist at the end of the movie, leaving an indelible mark on the minds of the viewers.

 “If I was to sink my teeth into your eye right now, would you be able to stop me before I blinded you?”

2. I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

The film, which begins with an ominous stream-of-consciousness monologue, revolves around the events that unfold when Lucy, an intellectual and a University student, takes a road-trip with her boyfriend Jake to visit his parents’ secluded farmhouse. On arrival, she meets his socially inept parents; jake’s calm nature takes a turn for the worse and she keeps receiving anonymous, sinister phone calls amidst surreal happenings. 

Kaufman resists categorisation with his fiendishly bizarre narratives. While some may find it difficult to understand his perspective due to the lack of a coherent narrative, the film is a wonderful take on the theme of identity, loss and fate. Brilliant performances from the talented ensemble heighten the existential anxiety of the film where the characters gradually seem to lose track of time, memories, emotions and identity. The film descends into a poignant and menacing dreamlike sequence with a wonderful climactic scene. 

“Animals live in the present. Humans cannot, so they invented hope.”

1. Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014)

L.A. resident Louis Bloom makes a living by scavenging and theft. He stumbles upon a new career as a cameraman, and armed with a camcorder and police scanner begins to embark on nocturnal strolls to record gruesome crimes. When he catches the attention of a news director, the latter wants to raise her station ratings and persuades Louis to go to grotesque lengths to record the ‘money shot’. 

Gilroy portrays the darker side of urban life in this Taxi Driver-esque film. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a stellar performance with his character’s ambition, desperation and stubbornness making him transcend limits and enter the world of the questionable, illegal and immoral. He is a persuasive and cunning sociopath driven by fierce ambition reflects the news depiction of the media industry which can go to any length to increase show ratings. Rene Russo delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as the local station director. Stylistic writing, cinematography and incredible performances make the film an impressive watch. 

“Good things come to those who work their asses off.”

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