5. Prisoners (2013)
When Kelly Glover’s six-year-old daughter and her friend go missing, the only lead is a dilapidated R.V that was parked on their street earlier. Detective Loki, who is in charge of the case, arrests Alex Jones the driver but is forced to release him due to a lack of evidence. With no other suspects forthcoming, Glover decides that he has no choice but to take the law into his own hands. But how far is he willing to go to save his family? And at what cost?
Denis Villeneuve’s crime thriller combines a number of elements to create a film where the suspense is multi-layered. Not only are the audience on the edge of their seat hoping that the missing girls will be found and the reason behind their disappearance will be solved. But suspense is also built throughout because of the way that the missing girls’ fathers behave. Just how far will they go? And what will the outcomes of their actions be?
The result is a highly tense, thought-provoking and provocative film that raises a number of moral and ethical questions. By the time that the credits roll, the audience will certainly be left with much to discuss.
Trivia: One of the newspaper articles in the film has a by-line by “Aaron Guzikowski.” He is the film’s screenwriter.
4. Oldboy (2003)
Based on the Japanese manga of the same name, Oldboy follows Oh Dae-su who is abducted one day and kept prisoner for fifteen years. When he is finally released, he tries to track down his captor – vowing vengeance. However, he soon finds himself embroiled in a web of deceit and violence which becomes complicated by his burgeoning romantic relationship with a young sushi chef.
Incredibly brutal, violent and unforgiving at times, Oldboy engages its audience with its disturbing and dark content matter. This is a film that uses clever storytelling to keep the suspense throughout. Just when you think that you may have figured out what is going on, the film wrong foots you and you are back to square one. And later you may even come to realise that perhaps you were watching it from the completely wrong perspective anyway.
Trivia: Oldboy almost won the top prize at Cannes the year that Quentin Tarantino was jury president. Tarantino loved the film and was an enthusiastic supporter of it. However, Oldboy ended up winning the Grand Prix instead of the Palme d’Or, which went to Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. It is rumoured that Oldboy lost by a single vote.
3. The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)
Struggling with his first novel, retired criminal investigator Benjamin Esposito visits former colleague Judge Irene Menendez Hastings to tell her about his plans and ask for her help to recount the unsolved case of the rape and murder of a newlywed. Hoping that recounting the case will help him find closure, Benjamin instead finds himself set on an emotional path that soon leads to shocking revelations.
This absorbing piece of filmmaking from Campanella is primarily dialogue driven and not necessarily the first film that would spring to mind as suspenseful. Yet it is in the slow unfolding of the story that small elements of suspense seep through and the mystery of the murder becomes more intense.
Trivia: Juan Jose Campanella who directed the film, was unhappy with the English translation of the film. In Spanish, the word ‘sus’ means their but can also mean his or her, meaning that the title was deliberately ambiguous. Whereas the translated title is not ambiguous.
2. The Lives of Others (2006)
In 1983, residents of East Berlin are secretly monitored by the Stasi – the GDR’s secret police. Stasi Captain Gerd Wiesler has doubts that a well-known playwright is a loyal communist. He receives orders to spy on the writer and his actress lover, but unexpectedly finds himself sympathetic to the couple. This leads to conflict when Wielser’s superior takes a liking to the actress and asks Wiesler to take the playwright out of the picture.
Combining history with morals, ethics and human nature, Das Leben der Anderen is a fascinating, chilling and moving film. The tension is taut throughout, from the first scene which shows an interrogation to the last frame of the film. The suspense in this film is not only an effective means of telling the story, it is utterly compelling.
Trivia: The props master had himself spent two years imprisoned in a Stasi prison and so insisted on complete authenticity of all the props. All the listening and recording props used in the film were genuine Stasi equipment, on loan from museums and private collectors.
1. No Country for Old Men (2007)
Whilst out hunting one day. Llewelyn Moss stumbles across a drug deal gone wrong. Unable to help himself, he takes the money that has been left behind. This decision sparks a cat and mouse chase as merciless killer Chigurh picks up his trail and sets out to find him. Meanwhile ageing Sheriff Bell is also looking for Moss in an attempt to find and protect him, all while trying to keep his own dark secret from being exposed.
No Country for Old Men has a multitude of impressive elements, however one of its stand outs is an incredible performance by Javier Bardem as villain Chigurh. So much of the film’s suspense is built through this character, his actions and demeanour making the audience feel incredibly ill at ease and on edge.
Trivia: A few days after signing onto the film, Josh Brolin broke his shoulder after a motorcycle accident where he collided with a car. Brolin spoke about how he only had one thought as he flew over the car – “F*****g s**t! I really wanted to work with the Coens.” However, rather than drop out of the film, Brolin decided to keep quiet about it and tough it out. The Coens later admitted that they knew that he had lied about the implications of his accident but let him carry on anyway.