If you are anything like me, you probably watch scary movies with a pillow or a cushion on your lap so that you can hide behind it during the jump-scare moments. But that doesn’t stop us from exploring scary movies once in a while, especially when there’s one that sounds like a good thriller material. The problem is, nowadays pretty much every talked-about horror movie is about a possessed subject and the subsequent exorcism. Last year, when I started thinking about it, I realized that the only movie that has really stayed with me is The Shining. Trust a master storyteller like Stanley Kubrick to do justice to a Stephen King classic horror. This movie tops my list of best psychological horror movies of all times, but at least it’s widely popular. So, I thought of exploring lesser-known movies that may often be overlooked because they are not publicized enough and they do not have the ratings in their favor. I have made here a list of a few such movies that I had a good time watching. I deliberately avoided those with zombies and gory creatures. One disclaimer though: if you enjoy scary movies and rate them based on scare factors, these recommendations are not for you. But if you are a movie buff like me who enjoys interesting stories regardless of the genre, go right ahead and check these movies out. They are streaming on Netflix (India) right now. Also, a 6/10 is by no means a bad rating. So, here’s the list:
The Ritual (2017); Director: David Bruckner
A group of friends set out on a hiking trip, end up in the woods, take a detour and things start going wrong. Sounds like a cliché story? Well, what sets this movie apart is the psychological crisis set at the very beginning when the murder of a close friend sends the protagonist off on a guilt trip. He must face his own fears and go through harrowing trials amidst the Scandinavian wilderness where a sinister presence as ancient as the woods looms large. Does he survive the trial and find his redemption?
What I loved: The tense drama juxtaposes trauma and guilt with the supernatural setting, supported by a strong cast.
What could have been better: The ending feels abrupt and does not allow enough space for the cathartic effect to settle in.
My Rating: 6/10
Under the Shadow (2016); Director: Babak Anvari
The Iranian-born Babak Anvari has hit the nail on the head, in so far as psychological horror is concerned, with this directorial debut. The movie is set in the war-ravaged Tehran of late 1980s. The seemingly endless conflict between Iraq and Iran has deeply impacted people’s lives: tearing near and dear ones apart, dislocating them from their homes, and making them live under constant threat. Being a woman exposed to liberal views and lifestyle in conflict with a conservative society that has defined a much narrower role for women does not make life any easier. Shideh must protect her child from the evil shadow that the missile that hit her building has brought with it. But to overcome the shadow, she must first overcome the cloud of self-doubts that creeps up exactly at those moments when she is most vulnerable.
What I loved: The metaphorical use of clothes for supernatural elements. What should a woman fear most: the society that will not let her be and wants to reduce her to a nobody, or the unseen evil forces?
What could have been better: The character of the protagonist does not go through much transformation except toward the end.
My Rating: 8/10
It Follows (2014); Director: David Robert Mitchell
This movie is a superb example of how a low budget movie can do wonders with a simple but unique story. After a sexual encounter with her boyfriend, a teenage girl learns that she has become a victim of a lethal curse, something that can take any form at any moment and at any place. No matter how much one runs, it follows and finds its victim. If she wishes to save herself, she must have sexual intercourse with a new person to transfer the curse. Will she put someone else’s life in danger to save herself or will she run out of hiding places and succumb to the evil?
What I loved: The supernatural take on Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and the destructive chain that STDs initiate is interesting in itself.
What could have been better: There is nothing I can point out without a plot spoiler.
My Rating: 8/10
The Canal (2014); Director: Ivan Kavanagh
The psychological crisis at the core of this movie is jealousy. A film archivist, David, moves to a new house with his pregnant wife and everything is fine for a few years till he starts suspecting that his wife is having an affair. In the meantime, he discovers some disturbing footage linking the house with gruesome murders of the past inhabitants. On the way home after witnessing his wife cheating on him, a distraught David has a strange encounter in the subway bathroom adjacent to the Canal. Consequently, when his wife goes missing and her body is fished out of the canal, dots are connected and he becomes a prime suspect. But David is convinced that an outwardly force is involved and he needs to protect his son from it. Will David uncover the mysteries surrounding the house and prove himself innocent, or will he allow his fears to overtake his sanity?
What I loved: A tense thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout
What could have been better: The ending is a bit of a let down and might make you think: “Oh, didn’t we know that already though?”
My Rating: 6/10
The Awakening (2011); Director: Nick Murphy
In 1921, England is recovering from the wounds of World War I, but it is infested with fraudsters who pray on people’s griefs and dupe them with psychic hoaxes. Florence Cathcart has a unique profession. She is a ghost and a hoax buster and has written a book on that subject, making her well-known among the public, though not always in a positive sense. Calm and confident as she may appear on the surface, Florence has a dark past buried deep within the recesses of her mind. When Florence accepts a case of a boarding school haunted by a child ghost, the past collides with the present and Florence struggles to keep her sanity. Is there really a ghost in the boarding school? Is the ghost story a well-contrived ploy by someone with a hidden agenda? Or is it something that neither Florence nor the audience see coming?
What I loved: Rebecca Hall’s fascinating performance and the plot twist
What could have been better: One might say that the ending contradicts the very premise with which the movie starts off.
My Rating: 7/10
So, give these movies a try and let me know if you have some hidden gems in your bag that I may not have watched yet.