5. Bad Times at the El Royale
It may all sound like “The Hateful Eight”: strangers come into some place, mysteries are revealed, and then things get violent. But seriously, it’s nothing like that and is far from a Tarantino rip-off. It manages to be an original film and while you can compare it with a few other films, it still has a lot of elements to make it distinctive. It’s not a fast-paced film, but that’s better, as the film gives its character room to breathe, and it uses its long runtime wisely by giving some of the cast members’ a great material to work with and also enough background story to make them all interesting.
The film is aesthetically beautiful; director-writer Drew Goddard lets the camera to also breathe. The costumes, production design, and makeup work all give you the feeling of the period in which the film is set, and with its characters, it also explores late ‘60s America with all of its political paranoia, cults, and so much more. A bit stereotypical, yes, but you won’t mind that. It just works.
Obviously there aren’t many hidden details or anything, but still it’s still fun to connect the events and characters to real life events. There’s no wonder that it’s much better for a miniseries format, but at least Goddard doesn’t let it turn into an underwhelming mess. Sure, he gives more screen time to some characters more than others, but everything feels very complete here. You get surprised by the twists and revelations, and its editing is worth of praise as well. It sure is a film that deserved a bigger audience, but who knows – it may turn into a cult classic in future. It has all the elements for that.
Edinburgh businessman Marcus takes his old friend Vaughn to a hunting trip in the Scottish Highlands. But when they accidentally shoot a boy instead of a deer, things get out of control. Love it or hate it, Netflix helps a lot of films get widely seen and “Calibre” is one of those.
The film feels almost claustrophobic because not only do our characters find themselves in a situation where it’s hard to escape, but the events that follow makes them almost trapped there. The movie makes some references to the John Boorman classic “Deliverance” (1972), but even if the story sometimes goes to the places you expect them to go, director Matt Palmer (in his feature film debut) somehow makes it his own and makes it unique, which is the most important thing when you make any kind of film these days and that’s how the picks are made in this list.
Given its limited budget, it’s also impressive how great the film looks. While the plot takes you into itself, you also get great psychological portraits of our characters; he doesn’t rush while narrating the story, and you feel the sense of danger and fear along with our characters. Unexpected twists and turns in the story give us extra tension.
Aside from being a gripping psychological thriller, “Calibre” can also be read as a sociopolitical commentary. All in all, this seemingly small film has a lot going for it. One would wish that people could enjoy it on big screen, but then again, it’s better to be on Netflix than being not seen at all. Certainly one of the tensest films of the year.
3. The Guilty
Maintaining the tension in a limited setting is always an impressive feat for both the director and its star, and “The Guilty” is basically what you’d call as the “Locke” meets “The Call.” Maybe the comparison to “The Call” is not right, as its tense side doesn’t come from chase or action scenes or anything.
This Danish drama, already acclaimed and popular enough that now Americans want to make a remake with Jake Gyllenhaal in it, has been much praised for its direction and its acting along with its tense, gripping, involving storyline. Jakob Cedergren plays a police officer who is subjected to work at an emergency call center due to circumstances that are not revealed until later in the film. One day he gets a call from a kidnapped woman and the rest is in the movie.
This is a one location movie, a telephone, and the rest is up to your own imagination, which almost feels like reading a book. Not an easy task to pull off, but luckily “The Guilty” is made with enough skill. Camera work helps to catch the tension of our lead character.
“The Guilty” is cleverly designed and contains several unpredictable moments. The film challenges its audience and in the end, “The Guilty” is probably what many people would call as a “thinking man’s thriller.”
2. You Were Never Really Here
Now here’s a film that will make you feel sad that Lynne Ramsay is not more prolific. Released in several places in 2017 but got its U.S. theatrical release in 2018, “You Were Never Really Here” is another gritty, brutal and extraordinarily dark film from Ramsay. While it’s not hard to understand the comparisons to “Point Blank” or the Paul Schrader-scripted films “Taxi Driver” and “Hardcore,” it’s still fully Ramsay’s own creation.
It may sound weird, but it’s better for you to catch Melanie Laurent’s “Galveston” after seeing this film; even though Laurent has made great films, this time her film was a failure and while watching this, you’ll understand what would happen if “You Were Never Really Here” had misguided direction and you’ll start to appreciate this film even more.
Just let the sound design impress you, let Joaquin Phoenix fascinate you with his talent, and let the story to disturb you with its gritty violence. Speaking of violence, even though it’s almost disturbingly violent, Ramsay never shows violence for sake of violence: violence is often kept offscreen and we see only the aftermath. She gets us disturbed by the idea of violence rather than the violence itself.
The film never hits a false note in general and it has its moving moments also along with some really beautifully composed scenes, just like that underwater sequence. The movie luckily found an audience among cinephiles but it still deserves more recognition. Truly chilling stuff.
If you had seen “Unfriended,” which was full of plot holes and silly sequences, then you can figure out how making a film that relies on a computer screen is not an easy task to pull off. Luckily, Aneesh Chaganty is talented enough to give us a smartly written, well-shot thriller that is indeed set on computers and smartphones.
Also notable for being the first mainstream Hollywood thriller with an Asian-American lead (John Cho), “Searching” is about a father who tries to find his missing 16-year-old daughter. As the whole film happens from David’s point of view, we witness the story developing along with him.
The most interesting side of “Searching” is seeing the events from the computer or phone screen. And if we had removed all of this, and if we were presented with a film shot in a typical manner, would it be as impressive as the same story? Who knows? The story would have been easier to follow, but it would have been rather ordinary. Those small details wouldn’t be as impressive or mysterious as they were.
However, “Searching” is not just a mystery. It’s also a strong, powerful father-daughter drama that may hit you more than you would expect. While the movie is not exactly fast-paced, it just grabs your attention through the whole film and you keep following the events with the same interest and never get bored or uninterested.
If you follow the events closely enough, you can maybe figure out the ending, but it still won’t matter because as it’s said, the film has just the right amount of dramatic depth, partly thanks to Cho’s terrific performance.