There is something very distinct to the adrenaline gained from a film. Whether it drags you closer to the edge of your seat, sees sweat beads begin to emerge on your forehead or just bring your heart rate to a consistent thump as opposed to a gentle tapping, there is something so wonderful about a film that is able to get under our skin and make us care to a point of feeling so involved that we feel the very same tension as the characters. So, let’s get to celebrating ten of these films…
1. Femme Fatale (Brian De Palma, 2002)
To start off with some style, let’s first discuss the wonderful mystery/thriller that is Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale. Considering that the film opens with a grand and mocking set piece centred around a screening at the Cannes film festival and that it only gets better from there, it may be needless to say that this is a damn fine film, and it helps that it also contains much of De Palma’s most meticulous direction for one of his most interesting stories to date.
Femme Fatale is a bizarre film, one that sees De Palma take his admiration for Hitchcock to a new place as he meddles with a delirious story that becomes increasingly odd as it hurtles towards its absolute jawdropper of a finale. It might be his most exciting film, and it boasts many all-time best De Palma moments, so it is a must watch for that alone!
2. Blood Simple (Joel Coen, 1984)
The debut feature of the now widely recognised Coen Brothers (Joel is the only director credited, but many have said that Ethan co-directed as usual for Blood Simple), Blood Simple is one of the greatest examples of a low budget thriller done right. Using its small scale to add to the wonderful sleaze that comes with the seedy setting and characters, Blood Simple would prove to be one of the strongest debuts (one that, if you ask me, the Coen Brothers never managed to match!) the film quickly proves itself to be a vision of an America in Hell – a world where no one gets away scot-free and nobody is as innocent as they may seem – ushering in (or at the very least, making a huge contribution to) the beginning of the neo-noir genre.
It’s a cold-blooded thrill ride, making use of shadows and location in such a stunning way that it’s really hard to believe that this is a debut feature after all. The performances across the board are brilliant, and the use of ‘It’s The Same Old Song’ by the Four Tops is one of the best needle drops in 80s cinema. A total stunner – do see it!
3. Red Road (Andrea Arnold, 2006)
Andrea Arnold’s name became much more recognisable after her two follow-ups to Red Road, Fish Tank and American Honey, however it seems that she may have made her finest and most affecting film first. Fish Tank is another excellent example of gritty British realism (taken from the Kitchen Sink era and reinvented to fit with contemporary issues – though they’re sadly very similar, little has changed), but Red Road is a truly chilling film in ways that Arnold hasn’t yet managed to reach again. The film is about Jackie, a CCTV operator who spots an old, familiar face from a past she’s trying to forget.
Taking the blueprint from Hitchcock’s Rear Window (again, updating it to make it contemporary) and running into some of the darkest scenes of recent memory, Arnold’s feature length debut takes a real step up from the short films that preceded it and boldly announced the arrival of a great new director. It’s a shame she’s never reached such dizzying heights again, but she has been successful in every film to date, with the majority of her audience enjoying each project.
4. Ricochet (Russell Mulcahy, 1991)
Maybe the most overlooked on this list in spite of its considerable box office success at the time of release, Ricochet is a brilliant small scale thrill ride that sees Denzel Washington give one of his most frantic performances opposite a deranged John Lithgow who will stop at nothing to ruin (and end) his life after Denzel was responsible for arresting Lithgow.
Mulcahy’s pacing here is absolutely breakneck in a way that few other thrillers can compare (Out of Time, another overlooked Denzel-starring thrill ride also comes to mind, though), and the film thrives on being small scale rather than being ashamed of it, which is where many smaller scale films fall to pieces. It’s simple and it knows it, wearing this simplicity much like a boy scout badge whilst brewing up some seriously exciting moments throughout thanks to the witty script and the brilliant situations written into it. It’s honestly pretty breathtaking, and less demanding than most films – it makes for a wonderful time.
5. Ronin (John Frankenheimer, 1998)
Featuring one of the greatest car chasing sequences of all time and starring the likes of Robert De Niro, Jean Reno and Sean Bean, it’s really a wonder that a film like Ronin could slide under the radar as it has. From John Frankenheimer, director of great thrillers from the mid 50s all the way to the year of his death, 2002, Ronin is an exhilarating ride that is about a group trying desperately to recover a mysterious briefcase that has landed in the hands of terrorists.
It’s a film that knows exactly what it is and is proud to be that way in the same way as Ricochet does, another excellent smaller-scale thriller that knows what it wants to do and only focuses on fulfilling its one purpose, focusing on the stunts and the twists and the goosebump-inducing, heart stopping jolts of energy. Ronin is just another great film to add to Frankenheimer’s colourful career, and one that deserves to be seen much more than it has been up to this point.