With horror films, the variety that you can get into when it comes to “sub-genre’s” is almost endless. It can be mixed with comedy, action, sci-fi, mystery, romance etc. The list can go on and on. But some of the most interesting of the genre are the psychological films. The ones that mess with our minds and often leave us thinking “…what just happened?”
But not really knowing what happened shouldn’t deter us from wanting to see these kinds of films. One of the best parts about not knowing what has happened is that it leaves things up to our own interpretation, or it leaves things open to be discussed with other people who have watched the films as well.
Not all psychological-horror films completely leave us in the dark though. There are some who give us just enough to work with so that we can try and put the pieces together ourselves. Doing so may require multiple viewings, but that’s half the fun! It’s like a mystery that the director wants us to solve on our own.
This isn’t always the case though, and sometimes we’re just left scratching our heads. The films that follow are a combination of both scenarios. Have you been able to solve the mystery behind some of these? Or are you still left in the dark about what has happened?
1. Audition (Takashi Miike, 1999)
Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is a middle-aged man and a widower who has gone without dating since his wife passed away seven years ago. With the help of his film producer friend Yasuhisa (Jun Kunimura), they set up a fake “audition” for the role of Shigeharu’s new wife.
Shigeharu quickly becomes infatuated with a woman named Asami (Eihi Shiina). He soon realizes that things are a little strange when he is unable to reach any of Asami’s references. One of them being a music producer that she claimed to have worked for. Not only is he unable to contact him, but he finds out that the man is also missing.
This doesn’t seem to detere Shigeharu though. When it cuts to Asami, she’s in her apartment and all it contains is a sack and a phone, which she has been sitting next to for the past four days waiting for Shigeharu’s call. When he finally calls, she acts as though she wasn’t expecting his call and agrees to go on a date with him. But the ringing phone has seemed to disturb something in the sack. What it contains at this moment though, is a mystery.
There’s no doubt that if you’re a horror fan, you’ve at least heard of this film. You may have even heard of some of its “infamous” scenes. But those scene’s do not define this film. The whole thing is incredibly brilliant. We aren’t just thrown into this experience without getting to know these people first. Director Takashi Miike takes his time in developing these characters and that makes the payoff all the more rewarding.
The first half of the film plays out almost like a romantic drama. You have this widowed man who hasn’t dated anyone in so long and is urged on by his son to move on and find someone new. But by the second half, we come to realize he may have been better off waiting a little longer. Is this woman really the nice, soft spoken woman she appears to be? Or is she something much more sinister?
2. Bug (William Friedkin, 2006)
When you hear director William Friedkin’s name, there’s a chance that one film in particular will come to mind: Exorcist. It’s one of the most popular and well-recognized horror films of all-time. But 33 years later, Friedkin also directed a lesser known film called Bug, about a man and a woman who confine themselves to a run-down hotel room for reasons that seem to only be apparent to one of them.
Ashley Judd stars as Agnes White, a waitress at a bar near the hotel in which she lives in. Recently she’s begun to receive silent telephone calls from someone who she thinks is her abusive ex-husband.
Later on, Agnes’ friend introduces her to Peter Evans (Michael Shannon), a drifter who claims to be a recently discharged soldier. The two both seem to be drawn to each other out of loneliness and soon a relationship forms. As the two become closer, Agnes soon begins experiencing the same bug and military surveillance paranoia that Peter does.
Bug seems to have one job: to make the viewer as uncomfortable as possible. And it does its job well. The atmosphere plays a very big part in this. Three-fourths of the film take place in Agnes’ cramped hotel room and when you add their erratic, paranoid behavior on top of that, it almost makes you want to step outside and get some fresh air.
The most brilliant part of this film is that there are no “monsters.” There are no killers with axes or creatures out for blood. It is two people, together in a hotel room, alone with their thoughts. It’s also a great example of how thoughts and ideas can spread. If you cram an idea into someones head hard enough and long enough, how soon is it until they start to have the same mindset as you?
3. Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973)
Within the first 10 minutes of the film, we witness the drowning of Laura (Julie Christie) and John Baxter’s (Donald Sutherland) daughter in the lake near their home. After some time has gone by, the couple take a trip to Venice, Italy where John has accepted a commission from a bishop to restore an old church.
Once the couple arrive in Italy. They meets two sisters, one of which is blind and a psychic. She tells Laura that she can “see” their daughter. This leads Laura to believe that somehow, her daughter is still alive. John thinks this is all crazy of course and refuses to believe it. It’s only when he spots a child wearing what looks like the same exact coat that his daughter was wearing when she drowned that he begins to question his own sanity.
There was a time when this film was ranked No. 1 in the BFI’s top 100 British films. Such an impressive accomplishment doesn’t just happen for no reason. There are quite a few qualities that make Don’t Look Now the great film that it is. One of them is director Nicolas Roeg’s use of the cross-cutting technique where he cuts events of the past, present, and future and presents them together in a way that makes us question which is which.
An early example is the opening scene where the daughter drowns. He cuts her drowning with their son riding his bike past while breaking glass with John looking at a picture of a girl in red sitting in a church.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what kind of film Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now is. First and foremost, it’s a story about loss. Not any old loss, but the loss of a child, and the grief that accompanies it and the strain it takes on a relationship. But there are other elements thrown in as well that make you wonder if the story leans more towards the supernatural. Whatever elements are put together, there’s still no doubt that the results are horrifying, and downright confusing.
4. A Field In England (Ben Wheatley, 2013)
Director Ben Wheatley is no stranger to making somewhat confusing films. His 2011 film Kill List had plenty of head-scratching moments, but not quite as many as his 2013 effort A Field In England, which follows a group of four men during the English Civil War who flee the battlefield in search of an ale house, only to be taken prisoner by another man.
Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith), an alchemist’s assistant, flees from his strict army commander where he meets Cutler (Ryan Pope) and two other army deserters Jacob (Peter Ferdinando) and Friend (Richard Glover).
They agree to leave together in search of an ale house but soon encounter O’Neil (Michael Smiley), a man whom Whitehead has been sent to capture for the theft of his master’s work and books. But instead of being capture, O’Neil asserts his authority over the men and tells them that there is a treasure hidden somewhere in a field nearby within a “fairy ring.”
Ben Wheatley does a great job at incorporating both history and folklore into a strange, and sometimes, psychedelic film. A fairy ring, by definition, is a naturally occurring ring or arc of mushrooms. The ancient superstition behind these “fairy rings” is that everyone who enters one are transported into a magical but dangerous realm. This is where the men are lead to dig for the treasure, and it’s also where the men begin to come undone.
One of the biggest things that add to the confusing ending is Wheatley’s use of stroboscopic effects. This is when moving objects are only shown in short samples quickly, sometimes giving us the impression that the object is actually moving in the opposite direction than what it actually is. This, accompanied with the cryptic and often strange images makes it one surreal ride that will keep you thinking.
5. High Tension (Alexandre Aja, 2003)
French horror films may be some of the best horror films, and quite a few of these (now) classics came out in the early to mid 2000’s. The film that seemed to usher in this “french revolution” was Alexandre Aja’s High Tension: the story of two friends, Marie and Alex, who are suddenly attacked by a killer while vacationing from college at Alex’s parents’ country home.
When the films begins, we see a woman in a hospital gown in what appears to be a psychiatric hospital. She’s mumbling to herself and we see that she has injuries all over her back. Then it cuts to another woman, running from something towards a road, trying to stop any vehicle that may pass by. Soon it’s revealed that that woman is injured as well.
Bleeding from an injury to her stomach. Both of those events end up being dreams of Marie. Her and her friend Alex are on their way to stay at Alex’s parents house for the weekend to get away from everything and study. They arrive at the house and Marie is given a tour before getting ready for dinner.
After dinner, they get ready for bed. As Marie is lying in bed, listening to music, she hears the doorbell ring, but Alex’s father is the one who answers it. The person at the door is a serial killer who then proceeds to attack Alex’s father.
The rest of the film is a violent and bloody thrill-ride. So much so that it was placed in TIME Magazine’s “10 Most Ridiculously Violent Films. As brutal and gritty as this film can be, it’s shot wonderfully and acted incredibly well. You may find the ending a little hard to believe, but don’t let that take away from the ride you took to get there. If you’re a fan of 70’s slasher films, you’ll no doubt enjoy this. Aja does a great job at paying homage to the films of the era here.