Movies are an experience that regardless of the level of quality, provides a form of escapism. For 2 hours you are transported from the comforts of your living room or that of a movie theatre to another world, a world crafted meticulously by a handful of talented individuals just for us.
At the end of the day, however, a film is still a film. It’s nothing more than moving images and sound on a screen. But despite that fact, filmmakers still manage to completely orchestrate their audiences into the worlds that they have created, evoking deep, innate emotions within them through these moving images. One such emotion is anxiety. The sense of tension, worry and fear, that which leaves you in cold sweat, with your heart pounding. An experience akin to a rollercoaster ride or even something more intense like being chased by a serial killer.
This list aims to highlight 10 such films, films able to leave you completely breathless solely through the pure sense of unease exuded. Films that make you forget that you’re safe in the comforts of your own reality, instead of providing a sense of escapism, they make you thank the heavens you’re in your world and not theirs.
Without further ado, these are 10 movies that give you anxiety.
10. Good Time
The closest body of work to Good Time would probably be an extremely long mission in a video game like Grand Theft Auto, in an absolutely brilliant way.
The atmosphere of tension never once lets up. From start to finish, this film is an absolute thrill ride, with situation after situation of absolute insanity. What’s particularly well-done is that despite the film’s small scope, the situations never felt unrealistic, or “tension for the sake of tension” so to speak). Instead, the situations in Good Time feel extremely well written and well flowing from one to the next, which is absolutely incredible considering how completely unpredictable the sequence of events are. It is literally impossible to predict the sequence of events beyond a rough synopsis, and this isn’t even an inherently complex art film.
The film’s greatest asset aside from the magnificently insane tension is the all-round amazing ensemble cast. Despite the slight hints of melodrama, every single actor performed exceptionally well, especially Robert Pattinson. The range demonstrated on screen is unbelievably incredible, making the world forget his disastrous role as Edward Cullen 10 years ago.
There is a genuine sense of fear, regret and cockiness exuding from his every nuance, a far cry from the pretty boy persona he’s built over the years. What’s particularly brilliant is the fact that, despite his performance being genuinely one of the best of 2017, the film wasn’t carried on his own two shoulders.
Oftentimes, indie films rely on the strength of the protagonist’s performance in order to mask a substandard script, Good Time, felt like a film that could just as well function without Pattinson, but his inclusion certainly helped add to the greatness of the film as a whole. It’s a criminally overlooked thriller that would certainly go down as one of the better films of the genre in later years and one that certainly embodies the idea of cinematic anxiety.
9. The Road
The Road is a gritty, unflinching rendition of the classic post-apocalyptic setting, one that’s certain to tug at the heartstrings or at least offer an immersive world.
The film offers a very realistic family drama in the unique landscape of a world long gone, exploring the many facets of a father-child relationship. With the brilliant chemistry between Kodi Smit-McPhee and Viggo Mortensen, a chemistry built and developed brilliantly through the course of the film, the moments of intensity, though little in the film seem to carry so much emotional weight. We don’t want anything to happen to these characters, but the possibility of that happening seems all the more likely with each new event in the deranged world built by the filmmakers.
What sold the film aside from the relationships is its distinct look. The bleak landscape established is one that’s done extremely consistently and brilliantly, with a nice blend of both CGI and practical effects to boost the believability of the world. Additionally, the select few moments where the palette is broken serves as nice little contrast, further accentuating the story and mood.
The film is an extremely heartfelt tale of the extent a father would go for the sake of his son in a world where every moment requires him to go above and beyond the call of duty.
8. The Revenant
The legendary film that finally got Leonardo DiCaprio his Oscar as well as Tom Hardy’s equally overdue nomination, the Revenant is pure insanity. Many disgruntled critics and audiences alike have described DiCaprio’s performance as “grunting and whining in the snow”, an over-acted interpretation with the promise of the Golden Statuette being his obvious intention. But the fact of the matter remains is that, it worked.
Even if the film is arguably a pretentious Malick-esque hot mess with all style and no substance, “the style” is something otherworldly. The world built by Iñárritu and Lubezki is one that juxtaposes gritty ultraviolence with the serenity of the wilderness. It’s both visually awe-Inspiring and emotionally draining. Iñárritu truly threw DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass through absolute hell on Earth and he didn’t shy away from the details.
It’s 150 minutes of pure emotional torture that’s ironically pleasing on a visual standpoint. Even if like the myriad of critics, you see the flaws in Iñárritu’s self-indulgent approach to filmmaking, as well as DiCaprio’s over-the-top performance, it’s undeniable that the grittiness and will of survival is one that’s portrayed gruesomely well in the course of the film.
The film that introduced one of today’s hottest filmmakers, Denis Villeneuve, to the mainstream, Prisoners is one wild ride of a film. We all heard the concept before, child goes out to play, child gets kidnapped, father does everything he can do to get her back. But no film has ever done it the way Villeneuve did in Prisoners.
It’s a film that questions the black and white nature of justice. How much is too much, in the pursuit of truth? How much is enough? In the case of the individuals of the film, especially Hugh Jackman’s character of Keller, the father (One of Jackman’s absolute greatest performances), nothing is ever enough, so much that we unfortunately get to sit through an extended grueling torture sequence involving a supposedly guilty but definitely mentally handicapped individual, and all we can do, like Terrence Howard’s character, is sit back and watch in absolute horror, helpless to do anything.
Prisoners truly featured some of the best performances by some of the best actors of our time. It’s a film meticulously crafted to our sick pleasures and one that, like the anxiety it provides, has an unrelenting and constantly developing sense of mystery. We seriously have no idea who could’ve done it, and each option presented by the film seems equally viable. When we do realize who actually did it, even despite it all, the result never fails to shock.
In the spectrum of arthouse cinema, Gaspar Noé falls on the extreme. Even his outward appearance screams tortured genius. Irreversible, his most well-known work, truly cemented him at that far end of film. It tells a simple story of two men seeking revenge after their friend’s rape. What makes this film unique and distinct in a realm of its own is that the sequence of events is presented backwards.
The result of showing us the gruesome (a severe understatement) consequences of the event before we see the cause makes for an extremely unnerving experience. It forces us to ask what could have possibly led to a man’s face being absolutely obliterated by a fire extinguisher in one of the most seizure inducing sequence in cinematic history yet? The way the mystery develops is not any less suspenseful or underwhelming as if it did so in chronological order, but Noé nevertheless had a story to tell and the only way he saw fit to do it right was backwards.
The very fact that it still worked truly speaks for how great of a filmmaker Gaspar Noé is, proving that he isn’t just some pretentious art fanatic with an obsession with the extreme, but someone with complete command of the technical aspects of storytelling.
Irreversible is one of those films that’s undeniably a masterpiece, yet also one that no one in their right mind would ever bring themselves to watch it again.