6. God’s Country (2022)
Thandiwe Newton absolutely commands the screen in God’s Country, a disquieting, methodically paced thriller from director Julian Higgins. While the central premise doesn’t quite grip you like other entries on this list, a career-defining performance certainly does, and that’s just one part of an even greater whole.
Newton is undeniably the star of the show here. Her revelatory work adds to the uneasy tone that lingers from one scene to the next. Her character, Sandra, is a college professor living in a mostly white rural town. As she begins to discover how her life changes after moving to this new location, she slowly snaps after discovering the evil that people are capable of.
The storytelling is largely by-the-numbers, but the cast and crew find ways to make God’s Country more than just a simple revenge thriller. Even without Newton, this is still an elaborate character study that shows how society can warp a person’s worldview. With Newton, this is a brilliant thriller with one of the best lead performances of 2022. It may lack breakneck pacing, but it should entertain viewers looking to dig into something haunting and provocative.
7. Midnight (2021)
Viewers looking for a no-frills cat-and-mouse thriller won’t do much better than Kwon Oh-seung’s directorial debut, Midnight. The film revolves around a deaf woman who, after witnessing a stabbing, becomes the target of a deranged serial killer. While the deaf protagonist adds an additional layer to a familiar premise, this is not a high-concept movie. It’s all relatively straightforward, but in the end, that works to its benefit.
See, Midnight excels precisely because it refuses to get overcomplicated. Rather than piling on plot twist after plot twist, the first-time director and screenwriter focuses on telling a simple story with skill. It’s a well-shot, perfectly paced little thriller with stellar performances, particularly from Jin Ki-joo and Squid Game’s Wi Ha-joon.
Of course, this results in a movie that won’t leave many viewers ruminating after the credits roll. Thankfully, the moment-to-moment thrills are plentiful. The script never strives to be anything more than surface-level entertainment, and if you’re willing to accept that, you’ll find plenty to appreciate.
8. Unlocked (2023)
This Netflix original from first-time director Kim Tae-joon doesn’t always aim for realism, but that’s hardly a complaint when you realize just how engrossing every moment is throughout the two-hour runtime. Unlocked never strives for prestige, and that’s okay because in the end, it does what a thriller should do; it keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Upon pressing play, viewers meet Lee Na-mi, a marketer who, after a night of partying, realizes that her phone has gone missing. While she does eventually get her phone back, it comes with an unfortunate surprise. With dangerous spyware watching her every move, and in some cases controlling her every move, Na-Mi’s life starts to crumble. Her only hope is finding the hacker, but that’s obviously not an easy task.
In some ways, it sounds like a bad Lifetime original movie, but thankfully, director Tae-joon understands the importance of tension in a film like this. Unlocked is frequently unnerving, and more importantly, it never stops being interesting. Even when it ceases to focus on realism, it’s hard not to be engaged. The various cogs come together to create something one-of-a-kind.
9. Run Sweetheart Run (2020)
Blumhouse’s quirky horror/thriller hybrid doesn’t seem particularly unique at first glance. Trailers made it look like another variation of something like Ready or Not, but in reality, it’s an unusual amalgamation of multiple genres and tones, and while this mix does have a tendency to get convoluted, it’s worth a watch if only to see how wild things get as the runtime progresses.
At the beginning, viewers are introduced to Charlie, a pre-law student who works as a secretary for a legal firm. When her boss coaxes her into going to dinner with an important client, she halfheartedly accepts, if only to further her career. Upon meeting the man, she’s initially charmed by his gentle sense of humor and good looks, but as she gets further into the night, this important client begins to show his true intentions.
The film never tries to hide the fact that he’s the villain. That being said, his actual motivations are not made clear until somewhere near the halfway point. This is when the movie really starts to flourish, or at least it does if you’re willing to accept its more ridiculous plot twists.
Run Sweetheart Run is an unpredictable thriller with massive redirections that are bound to leave the average viewer dizzy. Its central message isn’t exactly subtle, but the film generally delivers when it comes to delivering big thrills with a side of social commentary. It’s big, bold, and loud, but that’s a large part of its charm.
10. Who Invited Them? (2022)
Out of everything on this list, Who Invited Them? is bound to be the most polarizing. It’s not hard to see why either; it’s an uneven genre mishmash that takes a little too long to get going. Now obviously, that’s probably not the best way to sell readers on a movie, but let’s make one thing clear – this movie is a lot of fun if you’re willing to throw your own expectations out the window.
Who Invited Them? doesn’t follow genre conventions. It has too many ideas and not all of those ideas gel together, but in the end, it’s a supremely uncomfortable thriller that will have you second-guessing your social interactions at every future gathering. It’s a thriller that’s driven by its awkward, tense dialogue, but as a result, it’s often lacking when it comes to actual high-stakes thrills.
Fans of dialogue-driven movies should eat this up. Yes, the emphasis on talking ultimately results in a slower paced movie, but that shouldn’t be a problem when the dialogue is so incredibly well-written. The fact that it all leads to something so exciting should be enough for most viewers, but again, it’s not a complete home run.