The year 2018 was not much of a special year for thrillers. We hardly got any masterpieces but just like many other years, we still had some good, entertaining stuff that are worth checking out. Films like “Upgrade,” “Cam,” “A Quiet Place” and “Unsane” are more horrors than thrillers, so they don’t make into our list.
We want to give an honorable mention to the very surface-level criticism of society but still deliciously entertaining “Assassination Nation,” Brad Anderson’s overlooked “Beirut,” the underwhelming but still fine sequel “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” the atmospheric “Hold the Dark,” and Liam Neeson’s latest offer “The Commuter,” which is what you’d call “dumb fun.” And now let’s take a look at 10 of the highlights of the year.
10. Bird Box
You kept hearing about it everywhere for a while, didn’t you? “Bird Box” – which is an involving film from Susanne Bier, albeit still a bit underwhelming – was a success for Netflix as they announced that it was their most viewed film in its first week. Its meme-worthy plot also helped, and then there was even something called the “Bird Box challenge.”
All this attention may lead you to think it’s some kind of overly original and incredible thriller. No, it is not. But it’s still a fine watch and one of the more interesting works of the year. It doesn’t go into the horror side like the similarly themed “A Quiet Place” or even “The Mist,” but as a thriller, it’s still enjoyable. Sandra Bullock has long stopped being your favorite blockbuster comedic star (with an exception of “Ocean’s Eight,” at least) and now turned into a committed dramatic actress, and she’s fantastic in her part.
The cinematography is also good, especially in the lake scenes. Sure, they could have done much more with this concept, but still, “Bird Box” is a decent watch with a great first act, strong performances, several great scenes (even if they lack depth) and better characterizations. Most importantly, it may cause some discussions among you and your friends, which are always fun. Don’t buy the hype, don’t let your expectations get very high, but yet, still give it a chance.
Maybe this one also shouldn’t make here as it has strong horror elements as well, especially that gory final scene. “Revenge” was premiered in many film festivals in 2017, and it got a lot of acclaim and hype that it was destined to be a genre film hit in 2018 when it hit theatres. The debut was definitely a success: the film came out solid and uncompromising, not without flaws, but able to completely captivate audiences for 90 minutes.
If you’re more interested in plot, “Revenge” is not overly special or unique unless you haven’t seen any rape-and-revenge thrillers in your life. However, it’s very stylish and its stylistic approach and direction helps it to stand out. In fact, its technical side and some magnificently shot scenes are what makes “Revenge” a great thriller. You can say it even parodies some of the problematic sides of rape-and-revenge films of previous decades.
The cinematography and settings are gorgeous, as the desert landscapes fascinate with their captivating endlessness. There are also very short but pretty artistic moments, like any moment with the ants. Matilda Lutz makes for a very fine lead. The use of music also adds a lot to the atmosphere. While the basic plot is hardly anything special, “Revenge” still shows that it’s possible to make a strong thriller if you have the right style.
Is it a little bit of style over substance? Maybe, but who cares? It’s delicious. It took so much for it to hit theatres, which resulted it being the last theatrically released film of the late actor, the very talented young Anton Yelchin, who’s once again great here. But the show really belongs to our main leads – Anya Taylor Joy and Olivia Cooke – and they both are killing it as two wealthy teenage friends from suburban Connecticut with some dark thoughts in their minds.
Getting more into plot details would give away too many spoilers for anyone who has not seen the film, yet but there’s one thing for sure: if you love films with dark, twisted characters and really dark humour, then it’s a movie made for you. It’s unpredictable, very original, full of “what the…?” moments. It’s intriguing right from the start and you’ll keep wondering what’s next for our characters.
The director is not interested in you liking the characters, in fact you may even despise them, but the point here is you’ll find yourself intrigued by them and the film does its job perfectly; it keeps you involved and intrigued through its runtime.
You might not expect the director of “Shame” and “Hunger” to deliver such thrilling action scenes; not only does he do that, but he also gives us a great robbery story. Based on the 1983 ITV series of the same name, “Widows” has some flaws, which are understandable considering it’s based on a TV show that had more time to develop its storylines and characters.
For example, you don’t particularly get enough backstory to the conflict between Robert Duvall’s and Colin Farrell’s characters, so the dramatic impact is not there. Michelle Rodriguez’s and Cynthia Erivo’s characters don’t get enough character development, so they feel bit wasted.
Regardless, “Widows” also has enough strong sides to overcome its weaknesses: as it’s mentioned, it’s full of thrilling sequences, some unexpected twists, and the cast (and what a cast!) does the best that could be done with the material they have, especially Elizabeth Debicki, who just shines.
It’s very disappointing that she didn’t get enough recognition during awards season for her work here. Sure, she’s also benefited from the fact that it’s arguably the best written character in the film, which is why sometimes you might end up wishing the whole film was about her. But that’s alright, because despite its flaws, “Widows” is still one of the best thrillers of the year with some great drama and amazingly shot scenes from McQueen.
6. A Simple Favor
If you wonder why it’s above “Widows,” it’s because here flaws are to be forgiven. All of its flaws are not to be taken seriously, because Paul Feig knows when there’s a need to take the storyline seriously and when to not. This is also one of the most amazing aspects of this crazy entertaining film – as how it changes the tone from thriller to mystery to comedy to drama without getting too messy and annoying, and it’s also very stylish in its cinematography.
The film is about a young widowed single mother named Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) who becomes friends with much cooler, charismatic, rich, busy working mother (Blake Lively), a PR director for a fashion company, whose son, Nicky, attends the same elementary school as Stephanie’s son. One day she asks a “simple favor” from Stephanie, but it turns out that it’s just the beginning of events that could hardly be described as “simple.”
The film is mainly for those who enjoy films full of twists and turns, and it’s not something overly dark that should be taken seriously, which makes it a standout among pretentious thrillers of recent years.
Apart from Feig’s great direction, French songs on the soundtrack, and the delicious storyline, another highlight here are the performances. Kendrick is wonderful. She plays to her well-known quirks but also brings dramatic depth to her part. But it’s Blake Lively who’s a total revelation. While we praise the film for being self-aware, we have to note if it was some kind of pretentious darker story, Lively would get more awards attention than she received.