6. Hard Candy (2005)
A grown man connects with a young girl in an online chatroom and invites him over to his house. He makes them alcoholic drinks and plans to take photographs of her. But after swallowing his drink, he falls unconscious. When he awakes, he’s tied to a chair and the girl (Ellen Page) explains that she’s been investigating him and accuses him of being a pedophile, rapist, and murderer.
While the man initially denies these claims, the girl finds a gun and pornographic pictures of a young girl from the area that has gone missing. After several attempts to overpower the girl, for which he is continually defeated, the girl then calls his girlfriend, asking her to come to the house immediately. She then extracts a confession from the man about the missing girl and gives him an ultimatum.
Hard Candy is a unique revenge story where a slight teenage girl (Page, in a stellar early performance) continually turns the tables on a sexual predator (Patrick Wilson), and whose torturous actions–which would otherwise seem cruel–actually make the audience cheer her on.
The film–which mostly takes place in one location–makes use of its claustrophobic set, where an absolute deviant is caught in his own lair, and where his own weapon is used against him and the hidden evidence of his crimes are exposed. A thriller that shifts the power dynamic between prey and predator, Hard Candy’s wholly unsympathetic villain allows the viewer to actually enjoy watching as his potential victim instead catches him in his own trap.
7. The Lives of Others (2006)
Set in 1984 East Germany, a member of the Statsi (secret police), Wiesler, is ordered to spy on a playwright, a request he finds strange because the writer’s work has been staunchly pro-Communist. Wiesler soon discovers that his superior–who is enamored with the playwright’s actress girlfriend–is looking for a reason to denounce the playwright, thereby eliminating him as a romantic rival.
A dangerous alliance is forged between Wiesler and the playwright while his apartment is surveilled by the state. Meanwhile, after a friend commits suicide, the playwright anonymously publishes an article in the state paper decrying the suppressed suicide rates by the state. The fallout of this act brings tragic consequences; just four short years later the Berlin Wall falls and the Communist regime in East Germany is abolished–but the story doesn’t end there.
The first drama produced in Germany since reunification about living under the socialist regime in East Germany, The Lives of Others is a terse look at the destructive force a totalitarian regime can have on the personal lives of innocent people subjected to its machinations. It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, and due to recent disclosures of America’s surveillance operations on its own citizens, its subject matter is perhaps more precient than ever.
8. Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)
An executive with a drug habit (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his insolvent brother with a daughter (Ethan Hawke) concoct a plan to rob a jewelry store to solve their financial problems. It’s all planned out to perfection: no guns, no victims, and the store’s insurance will cover their losses. But of course it all goes horribly wrong, leading to an emotional fallout and devastatingly personal consequences for these brothers and their family members.
If this plot summary sounds vague, it’s intentionally so, since giving away too many details would ruin the incredible twists and gut-wrenching turns that this film–which is presented in a nonlinear fashion–unfolds.
Moving forward, and then backtracking to give the scene just shown more context, and then moving forward again with the audience now armed with new knowledge that changes the context, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead employs an effective and suspenseful narrative device that keeps the viewer rapt with attention as the full story begins to come into focus.
This was Sidney Lumet’s last film before his death, and as a final film, it’s a masterpiece from an already venerated director. Highly praised upon its release, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead draws its power from watching as a family is shattered from within–and all for a little bit of money.
9. Stuck (2007)
After a night of drinking and drug use, Brandi (Mena Suvari)—an inebriated caregiver to the elderly–hits a pedestrian with her car. The man that she hit, Tom, becomes embedded in her windshield. Fearing arrest while in her condition, she drives home and parks the car in her garage–with Tom still stuck in the windshield.
While initially promising to call for help, Brandi fears that the accident will ruin her life and leaves Tom stuck in the windshield to slowly die. Conspiring with her boyfriend to burn the car–and the man with it–Tom tries to escape. What follows is a bloody battle between the severely injured Tom, Brandi, and her boyfriend, as they all try to escape the situation they’re stuck in.
Incredibly, this movie was based on a true story (although with a radically different outcome): an inebriated woman hit a homeless man with her car, who became stuck in her windshield. She then left him to die in her garage, later callously joking about it at a party, which led to her arrest.
The film version goes in a vastly different direction, and with a very dark undercurrent of humor behind the horror and escalation of violence that leads to the film’s conclusion. Knowing that such a seemingly outlandish concept is partly based on true events lends a disturbing touch of reality to an already outrageous thriller.
10. Transsiberian (2008)
After completing a Christian mission, an American couple, Roy and Jessie (Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer), take a train from China to Russia, where they befriend another couple–a Spanish man (Eduardo Noriega) and an American girl (Kate Mara)–who, while initially seeming friendly, Jessie suspects that something sinister is occurring.
After being separated from Roy when he misses a train during sightseeing, Jessie remains with their new companions. Jessie begins to put together that the man, Carlos, is smuggling drugs, and asks that he doesn’t involve Abby, his companion, into his operation.
After a violent confrontation during a train stop, Jessie ends up killing Carlos near an abandoned church she was sight-seeing. She then reunites with Roy, who has befriended a narcotics officer (Ben Kingsley) while travelling to catch up with Jessie–and she realizes that Carlos had switched their bags and now she’s carrying the matryoshka dolls that he was using to smuggle the drugs.
The film continues on from there, and to reveal any further would be to spoil the increasing suspense as the two main characters–and the hapless young woman who was accompanying the smuggler–begin to fall further into a situation they never agreed to be a part of and being pursued by ruthless criminals who want both the drugs (which they are willing to surrender) and the money (which they don’t have) that Carlos was carrying.
It’s a great thriller that keeps the suspense going by placing its (mostly) innocent characters on a train, travelling through foreign lands where they don’t know the rules and have nobody else to turn to for help–sometimes not even each other.
Author Bio: Mike Gray is a writer and academic from the Jersey Shore. His work has been featured on Cracked and Funny or Die, and he maintains a humor recap TV and film blog at mikegraymikegray.wordpress.com.