Tag Archive: psychological thrillers


Review by C.J. Bunce

A lot of child actors who begin in horror roles tend to continue in the genre through their entire careers.  Why is that?  Take Isabelle Fuhrman, star of the 2009 surprise hit, Orphan, where at the age of 10 she starred opposite Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard as Esther (it’s too late to call spoiler!) a 30-year-old posing as a 10-year-old; a 30-year-old with a disease that causes her body not to age so she’s a believable 10-year-old.  A movie that kooky sounding wouldn’t normally be one of the best psychological thrillers in its niche, but Fuhrman truly sold the performance.  Now at age 25, Fuhrman is back, this time playing her age–sort of–in one of those rare sequel/prequels that surpasses the original: Orphan: First Kill Are B-level horror movies supposed to be this good?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For every series that exceeds your expectations–say, for example, this weekend’s premiere of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power–a series you have hopes for disappoints.  This summer, Apple TV+ subscribers were provided with a weekly dose of what was billed as a psychological thriller.  Surface follows a woman of uncertain identity as she tries to find herself after she may have tried to commit suicide by jumping off a ship into the ocean and awakened afterward with amnesia.  A series with such a preposterous starting point owes it to viewers to provide some compelling storytelling.  With the final episode of its first season arriving this past week, the truth set in.  A payoff never happens.  Just a corporate effort to get viewers, complete with corporate logos waved at the viewer, banking on doses of cliffhanger endings, all setting up for a batch of unanswered questions for the final scene in hopes someone will pick it up for a second season?  Save yourself the time:  You have tens of thousands of other series–especially British-led series as this is–with far more compelling stories.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Every now and then a movie truly keeps you riveted to your seat.  You can usually bank on a movie co-starring Ethan Hawke to be good.  This year’s “coming of age, supernatural horror thriller” The Black Phone is much better than good.  It’s the best movie I’ve seen in a few years of any genre.  Following a brother in sister in a small Denver suburb in 1978 as the town is shocked by a criminal dubbed the Grabber, who is kidnapping and killing young boys, a few years before pictures of missing kids would be the subject of milk cartons across the nation.  Based on a Joe Hill short story, the subject matter is not something audiences are expected to be comfortable with, and yet the handling of it, as well as the incorporation of supernatural elements, makes for a movie as stunning as David Fincher’s Zodiac, grounded so much in reality anyone who lived through the era will certainly find elements from their own memories as director Scott Derrickson delivers one of the finest re-creations of the 1970s ever put on film.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Writer-director David Koepp knows how to make a good movie.  He’s written the scripts for Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park, for Raimi’s original Spider-Man, for De Palma’s Mission: Impossible, and the list goes on, to include some horror work.  In You Should Have Left, Koepp adapts German writer Daniel Kehlmann’s novel of the same name.  The film is from Blumhouse, which lately has produced horror that is less slasher and more appealing to mainstream viewers.  You Should Have Left is a pulse-pounding thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and barely earns its R rating.  It also proves you don’t need a big cast and big budget to make a fantastic movie.  You Should Have Left, a 2020 sleeper you probably overlooked, is streaming now on the free Peacock app.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Much of the best science fiction doesn’t leave us with memorable or lovable characters so much as incredible, imaginative ideas, and prescient or prophetic visions.  When you look to science fiction’s past, examples can be found throughout the works of H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, and Ray Bradbury.  Great concepts abound, like Wells’ time travel, Mary Shelley stretching the bounds–and horrors–of medical science, Dick always wrestling with the perils and annoyances of technology, and Michael Crichton finding ways to use science to change the future.  Robert J. Sawyer is a current science fiction author building on the ideas of the past, and like all of the above writers who researched the real science behind their characters, he delves deep into his subjects.  In his novel Quantum Night, now available in paperback, he has with surgical precision stitched together a tale of modern truths and horrors, bundled in a story pressing the bounds of psychology and quantum theory to explain why the world may seem to be falling apart, and offering one way to try to repair it.

In a very educational way, Quantum Night is also a refresher in Psychology 101.  Sawyer, one of only three science fiction writers ever to have won the trifecta of writing awards (the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Campbell), references every major theory and experiment from college days along with enough background in quantum theory to support a compelling thriller.  By book’s end you may find yourself staring at strangers and questioning their level of consciousness, conscience, and psychopathy.  You may be sitting next to a psychopathic individual right now, or someone with a mind that may be even more gut-wrenching to discover.  Written in 2015 and taking place in the not-so-distant future, Russian President Vladimir Putin readies to fire nuclear weapons on the United States.  A future U.S. President gets Roe v. Wade overturned, has gotten his country to turn on immigrants and then invades Canada, led by its first Muslim prime minister (here Sawyer predicts the future of the current real-life Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi), purportedly so the U.S. can secure Canada’s cities when the country no longer is able to control the flow of terrorists.

The story follows a professor of psychology who also serves as an expert witness to defend criminals who have proven to be psychopathic on both established and modern psychopathy tests.  In the latest case he is reminded of his own past on cross-examination–a past he refuses to believe.  As he re-traces his memories he learns his volunteering for psychology experiments in college resulted in six months of erased memories.  And it gets worse–his mind was altered.  Readers encounter a pair of scientists in the past, trying to hone in on those elements of the mind that shape how we think.  The protagonist encounters a lover from his college days who is also in the field, and their relationship and her relationship with her daughter and her brother (now 20 years in a coma), could dictate the fate of everyone’s future with a high-tech tuning fork “sonic screwdriver”-inspired device and one of the 40 giant, real-world synchrotrons.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

An exciting new Gothic suspense thriller has arrived in the new Netflix series Requiem.  Like any great mystery–and it seems even more so in this sub-genre–you never can tell what kind of story you’re in until the very end.  Clues are everywhere if you only look at what is right in front of you.  Call it a psychological thriller, call it a ghost story, call it a police procedural, call it another X-Files entry, call it outright horror, Requiem is a British production that, unlike so many past British series, it’s arrived for American audiences as quickly as it premiered in England.  And one of the great things about Netflix is it’s now bridging that gap of time that has so often taken British television series years to arrive in the States.  We don’t know their trick but we love it.  Requiem is as creepy, as atmospheric, and as chilling as anything you’re going to see this year.

Fans of the original The Watcher in the Woods will appreciate Requiem for many reasons, including getting that obligatory British estate nestled in the far-off woods so very right.  Viewers familiar with the Gothic genre will find themselves transfixed, scrabbling to follow clues and guess before the final episode the true nature of the darkness in the story.  The beauty of the script, acting, and setting is that you probably won’t be able to figure it all out.  It’s that good.  Expect a few “I didn’t see that coming” utterances and a satisfying ending.  Is this just another procedural crime drama about a missing child?  Something like The Missing, Thirteen, Broadchurch, Hinterlands, Shetland, or this year’s Netflix release, Collateral Or something with a more supernatural twist like British series Marchlands, Lightfields, The Secret of Crickley Hall, or a litany of creepy ghosts, haunts, and other fears from the big screen across the decades, like Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake is Missing, Gaslight, The Lady Vanishes, or The Woman in Black, like the film adaptations of the Daphne du Maurier novels My Cousin Rachel, The Birds, and Rebecca, or adaptations of Gothic classics Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Turn of the Screw, or Great Expectations?  Maybe this is a modern horror tale wrapped in Gothic dress, like The Boy, The Ring, The Sixth Sense, The Shining, The Others, The Fog (and other John Carpenter classics), Skeleton Key, the Oscar winner Get Out, this year’s film Winchester, or Guillermo del Toro’s modern creation inspired by the classic Gothic thriller, Crimson Peak Or maybe it only has the atmosphere of the above productions.  

Virtuoso cellist Matilda Grey (Star Trek Beyond, Black Mirror, and Never Let Me Go’s Lydia Wilson) is readying a London premiere with her musical partner Hal (Game of Thrones’ Joel Fry).  But her world falls apart when her mother Janice (Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams and Spaced’s Joanna Scanlan) commits suicide.  At her mother’s home she finds a hidden box of secrets that reveals her own past may not be what it seems, and she and Hal find themselves trying to come to terms with Matilda’s loss in the seemingly unpronounceable Welsh town of Penllynith.  Something wicked this way comes, or does it?  Is everyone just caught up in an old missing persons case from years ago and the quirky lore of an old village?

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Last seen in the theater 62 years ago, author Daphne du Maurier’s novel My Cousin Rachel is returning to theaters next week in a new adaptation.  Although the title may sound like a somber, pastoral story you might see from the likes of Jane Austen, get ready for a psychological thriller that could only come from the pen of the author of Rebecca and The Birds.  Film adaptations of both of those films would become thriller classics for director Alfred Hitchcock, with Rebecca as the 1941 Best Picture Academy Award winner.  The original 1952 adaptation of My Cousin Rachel starred multiple Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance as Rachel, a beautiful Englishwoman believed to have murdered a man under her care.  de Havilland’s sister, Oscar winner Joan Fontaine, had been nominated for an Oscar for Rebecca.

This time around Roger Michell (Hyde Park on Hudson, Notting Hill) wrote a new adaptation of du Maurier’s novel and directs the film.  He cleverly cast an Oscar-winning Rachel for the role of Rachel–Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener, The Mummy)–whose performance looks quite convincing in the first trailer released for the film.  Sam Claflin (Pirates of the Caribbean: Stranger Tides, The Huntsman: Winter’s War) plays Rachel’s cousin, the role originally played by Richard Burton.

The overall look and feel from the film’s trailer is similar to other Gothic novels made into movies: dark, creepy, and mysterious, particularly in the romance between the two lead actors, like that found in Rebecca, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and more recently, Crimson Peak.  Check out this trailer for My Cousin Rachel:

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