Let’s be real: Some of us like the thrill of a good horror movie without any ghosts involved. The supernatural is either too much for us or just not our cup of tea. I feel you. Sometimes I don’t want to imagine a deformed demon and/or ghost in the middle of the night when I go to the kitchen and put too many teaspoons of Milo powder into my mug at 3 AM (Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’m safe from my imagination and its new hodgepodge of a serial killer possibly waiting just out of frame).
Maybe you’re more into true crime or psychological horror. Well, these 18 films are right up your alley. No ghosts, no demons. But don’t think that men can’t be monstrous–these movies will show you otherwise. Here you go in no particular order:
18. Shutter Island (2010) dir. Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island is a delightful look into the mind of Teddy Daniels and the conspiracy-laden island off Boston Harbor. What seems to be an investigative crime thriller slowly turns out to be something else completely. Leonardo Dicaprio is fantastic as the very intense, somber Teddy Daniels. Dark, twisting, and exciting, this is the perfect movie to get your heart racing.
17. Black Swan (2010) dir. Darren Aronofsky
With crooning classical music, blurred realities, and a distressed Natalie Portman, this movie balances the beautiful and the terrifying. Natalie Portman’s Nina is the epitome of unreliable narrator, creating a tapestry of situations where things could go terribly wrong at any moment. Nina’s a shy ballet dancer who longs to play the roles of the white and the black swan for her company’s production and will do anything to capture their energies. No need for demons with this one. That one part where she stares straight into the camera with her contact lenses on is nightmare fuel enough.
16. The Gift (2015) dir. Joel Edgerton
Peeling apart the layers of this movie is as fascinating as it is shudder-inducing. Edgerton’s The Gift presents us with a couple whose lives are interfered with by an old acquaintance with a secret on Jason Bateman’s Simon Callem. The film picks up in tension the more this old acquaintance appears and how much of an upper hand he really has.
15. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) dir. Lynne Ramsay
Tilda Swinton’s and Ezra Miller’s hauntingly similar looks give this movie its initial unease but once you get hooked on the story, you’re set. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a non-linear film about Tilda Swinton’s Eva trying to come to terms with the strange, violent tendencies of her son, Kevin. It gets in between her marriage, her parenting, and even her relationships with other people. Both these actors wow with their sleek black hair, striking looks, and powerful performances that left my skin crawling.
14. Seven (Se7ven) (1995) dir. David Fincher
The seven deadly sins + detectives + Morgan Freeman = A gem. This film has haunted me for years. It’s strong enough to carry its brilliant premise and soar above any doubts about it. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman make a kickass detective duo and the way the case trickles down to the intimate details of their personal lives only proves to underscore how terrifying the film can be.
13. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) dir. Jonathan Demme
Hello Clarice. While the Mandela Effect has us stumped on whether or not that line was actually uttered in the film, it’s still something that chills many of us to the bone. Hannibal Lecter’s sickly sweet, calm voice as he confronts Clarice Starling is something that has stayed with film-viewers for years. It’s not a surprise that this classic is up here, spooking us almost 3 decades later.
12. Split (2016) dir. M. Night Shymalan
I can’t watch James McAvoy films anymore because of Split. He truly, truly frightens me. And I don’t know if it’s his character in this film or him as an actor finding it in himself to play several different characters within his character. The fact that he could do that makes me wonder what he’s got inside him, really. It’s kind of incredible and frightening at the same time. This movie makes me only get into the car after I’m sure my dad’s inside. Important.
11. Misery (1990) dir. Rob Reiner
This film is character-driven, compelling, and terrifying. This film is like fangirling to dangerous levels. Obsessive fan + Stephen King can only result in a goosebump-inducing film. A writer is accosted by a fan and she isn’t happy with the endings he’s written for her favorite character. The image of Kathy Bates with a sledgehammer sometimes crops up in the worst of my nightmares. I’ve always wanted to be a famous writer. But this film made me reconsider for a second.
10. The Belko Experiment (2016) dir. Greg McLean
This film is a little more gore-y than anything but the premise behind it is sort of grossly fascinating in the most Hunger Games way possible. You tend to root for someone in these films and hope they reach the end. I’d panic too if someone took over the PA system where I work and told me to kill 30 of my co-workers. It’s a wild ride from start to finish.
9. Memento (2000) dir. Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan shakes us to the core with Memento. Guy Pearce’s Leonard suffers from a memory condition and it hinders him in his hunt for the man who murdered his wife. It’s another film that isn’t presented as one cohesive whole but rather two strands coming together at the end. It’s intense, thrilling, and it gets harder and harder to trust in Leonard’s judgment as you go on watching.
8. Disturbia (2007) dir. D.J. Caruso
This was a crazy one–mostly because people were so curious about Shia Labeouf’s role in it given that they remembered him primarily as the star of Even Stevens back in our Disney days. So it was like seeing him all grown up, weirdly enough. Labeouf’s character, while on house arrest, suspects his neighbor is up to no good. This film explores spying, some juvenile conspiracy theories, and how adults will fail to believe children in horror movies (yo, the kids are almost always right in those). When will the adults listen, really.
7. Creep (2014) dir. Patrick Kack-Brice
This film is unsettling from start to finish. Found footage films posses that extra layer of feeling real and this matches up perfectly with that feeling. It also makes you second guess any ads you see–Craigslist or otherwise. It starts off with a videographer, Aaron, answering an ad to film a stranger the whole day. This stranger, Josef, wants to create a video for his unborn son as he thinks he’ll die before the kid is born. But his requests and demeanor are so strange and off-putting that Aaron second-guesses himself and taking on this job. We second-guessed it from the beginning, man.
6. Orphan (2009) dir. Jaume Collet-Serra
Just the poster of this movie gives me chills. Isabelle Fuhrman’s face rendered symmetrically feels off from the get-go and the movie only capitalizes on the creepiness factor. Fact: Horror movies with kids are extra terrifying. And Fuhrman’s Esther is eager to show just how scary. She gives an 11/10 performance as the soft-spoken, artistic orphan with dark secrets up her sleeves for the family that is about to adopt her.
5. Get Out (2017) dir. Jordan Peele
Not only is Peele’s directorial debut a fantastic and frightening commentary on race, but it also packs a terrifying punch. The pace, music, and the phenomenal acting will keep you on the edge of your seat. The images of these characters crying have imprinted into my mind forever. Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris meets his girlfriend’s family, an all-white clan of old-school types. Everything about the trip feels forced–the smiles on her family’s faces, the over-hospitality, among other things–and it’s in this strangeness that the horrors come to life.
4. Gone Girl (2014) dir. David Fincher
Another Fincher gem, Gone Girl explores competing narratives in a splintering marriage and the lengths both characters will go through to either escape or retain the marriage. Rosamund Pike’s Amy one day goes missing and Ben Affleck’s Nick has to find his wife. Slowly, the story unravels to be more sinister than expected with Nick being put in the center of what was initially thought to be a disappearance and has quickly become a possible murder investigation. But Nick and Amy really aren’t what they seem.
3. The Visit (2015) dir. M. Night Shyamalan
Again: Why the kids? We really need to believe kids more in these movies. Plus it’s found footage! Becca and Tyler make their way to Pennsylvania to spend time with their maternal grandparents for the first time as they’ve never met before. Their mother is off on a trip of her own and will see them after. After being told not to leave their room after 9 PM, they, as most kids do, disobey and do that anyway, witnessing some erratic behavior from their grandparents. This film is intense. I love my lolas.
2. Don’t Breathe (2016) dir. Fede Alvarez
I have never found myself cheering on a burglar aside from Scott Lang in Ant Man but I guess Don’t Breathe betrays more expectations than just that. This film challenges your notions of who’s helpless and who’s not. Thieves attempt to loot a blind man’s place but find out he isn’t quite what he seems. Any preconceived notions you might have will fly out the window just as your heart rate climbs through the roof.
1. Zodiac (2007) dir. David Fincher
Investigation/detective thrillers are always fun. And by fun I mean stressful-fun. There’s definitely a thrill when it comes to unraveling theories and finding answers. Zodiac explores the historically real Zodiac killings in San Francisco and how his cyphers and hidden messages puzzled authorities for years. Exciting and smart, Fincher’s packed a great film for anyone who loves suspense and psyhchological thrills.
What’s your favorite psychological horror movie? Let us know!