The best thriller movies on Amazon Prime

The best thriller movies on Amazon Prime

Clockwise from top left:Casino Royale (Screengrab); Climax (Photo: A24); King Of New York (Screengrab); The Handmaiden (Photo: Magnolia); Brawl In Cell Block 99 (Photo: RLJE Films); Hereditary (Photo: A24); To Catch A Thief (Screengrab)
Clockwise from top left:Casino Royale (Screengrab); Climax (Photo: A24); King Of New York (Screengrab); The Handmaiden (Photo: Magnolia); Brawl In Cell Block 99 (Photo: RLJE Films); Hereditary (Photo: A24); To Catch A Thief (Screengrab)

Streaming libraries expand and contract. Algorithms are imperfect. Those damn thumbnail images are always changing. But you know what you can always rely on? The expert opinions and knowledgeable commentary of The A.V. Club. That’s why we’re scouring both the menus of the most popular services and our own archives to bring you these guides to the best viewing options, broken down by streamer, medium, and genre. Want to know why we’re so keen on a particular movie? Click the author’s name at the end of each passage for more in-depth analysis from The A.V. Club’s past. And be sure to check back often, because we’ll be adding more recommendations as films come and go.

Some titles on this list also appear on our best movies on Amazon Prime list, but we decided thriller films deserved their own spotlight since they are often not included on our year-end lists as much as other genres. The criteria for inclusion here is that (1) the film is classified by Amazon Prime as a thriller film, (2) The A.V. Club has written critically about the movie; and (3) if it was a graded review, it received at least a “B.” Some newer (and much older) movies will be added over time as Amazon Prime announces new additions to their library.

Looking for other movies to stream? Also check out our list of the best movies on Netflix, best movies on Disney+, and best movies on Hulu. And if you’re looking to laugh, check out our list of the best horror and the best comedy movies on Amazon Prime.

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2 / 25

Bone Tomahawk

Bone Tomahawk

Kurt Russell
Kurt Russell
Photo: Bone Tomahawk

For much of its lengthy 132-minute runtime, S. Craig Zahler’s directorial debut plays like a talkative riff on John Ford’s The Searchers, ambling alongside a group of Old West archetypes—the noble sheriff (Kurt Russell, sporting his bushy The Hateful Eight mustache), his old and frail backup deputy (Richard Jenkins), a well-to-do local (Matthew Fox), and a grieving businessman (Patrick Wilson)—as they set out to rescue Wilson’s wife, who’s been kidnapped by a horde of savage “Troglodytes.” Content to merely spend time with its characters as they chat, bicker and strategize, the film comes off as a lackadaisical throwback oater until it reaches its climax, at which point Bone Tomahawk veers suddenly, shockingly into outright horror, replete with what may be the most chilling, unforgettable death scene of the year. It’s an unexpectedly potent shift that rattles the nerves, and in the process, casts the preceding action as merely a prelude to what turns out to be a brutal portrait of the frontier clash between the civilized and the primitive. [Nick Schager]

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3 / 25

Brawl In Cell Block 99 

Brawl In Cell Block 99 

Brawl In Cell Block 99
Brawl In Cell Block 99
Photo: RLJE Films

It’s been a long time since an exciting new voice has emerged from the disreputable world of exploitation films (or artsploitation, as the more thoughtful variety is sometimes dubbed). S. Craig Zahler’s fine debut, Bone Tomahawk, married stomach-churning gore to colorfully archaic dialogue and a patient, leisurely pace. The same counterintuitive combination fuels Brawl In Cell Block 99, which sees a bulked-up, taciturn Vince Vaughn (in his best performance since Swingers) navigate the most horrifying prison in cinema history. That Vaughn’s character, Bradley, takes about 90 minutes of screen time just to arrive at cell block 99, where he’s agreed to murder another prisoner in order to save his wife (Jennifer Carpenter) and unborn child, is typical of Zahler’s painstakingly brutal approach. He’s as interested in the methodical nature of the journey as he is in the gruesome destination. Let the impatient and the squeamish beware. [Mike D’Angelo]

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4 / 25

The Cabin In The Woods

The Cabin In The Woods

Illustration for article titled The best thriller movies on Amazon Prime

Where Scream put a postmodern twist on slasher films, The Cabin In The Woods takes on the whole genre and twists even harder. Director Drew Goddard, screenwriter of Cloverfield and a veteran of Lost and Alias, co-wrote the film’s script with Joss Whedon, who worked with him on Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel. The script brings to the fore Whedon’s love of subverting clichés while embracing them and teasing out their deeper meaning. [Keith Phipps]

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5 / 25

Casino Royale

Casino Royale

Daniel Craig
Daniel Craig
Screenshot: Casino Royale

The most significant shot in Casino Royale—the Daniel Craig revamp of the James Bond franchise—comes early, while the new Bond is getting his Parkour on and hopping from beam to beam at a construction site in pursuit of a terrorist bomber. When Craig severs a cable so he can rise up on a pulley, there’s an insignificant insert shot of the pipes Craig cut loose, now tumbling on the ground. But it’s only insignificant from a plot perspective. From a thematic perspective, the falling pipes reflect the mission statement for this new Bond: “Actions have consequences.” This is a messier Bond than we’d seen in a while. He’s impulsive, he miscalculates, and when he kills someone, he gets blood on his hands, his face, and all over his clothes. In Casino Royale, 007 has plenty of chances to get bloody. [Noel Murray]

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6 / 25

Climax

Climax

Climax
Climax
Photo: A24

How does one classify a film as brilliantly deranged as Climax, Gaspar Noé’s all-out assault on the senses? It’s a profanely funny hangout movie that morphs, with scary speed, into a claustrophobic freak-out, a better Suspiria than the Suspiria remake. It’s an unholy club-banger musical, like a Step Up sequel set in the deepest circles of hell. And in its microcosmic vision of society in collapse, it might be the closest that Noé, French arthouse cinema’s “edgy” showboat extraordinaire, has ever come to actually saying something, to finding method in madness. [A.A. Dowd]

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7 / 25

Coherence

Coherence

Emily Foxler
Emily Foxler
Screenshot: Coherence

The minimalist sci-fi mindbender Coherence boasts a scenario as tried and true as the walking dead: Bickering individuals hole up in a house during a crisis, discovering that the threat looming beyond their walls may pale in comparison to the conflict happening within them. There’s a wrinkle in the design this time, however, and it’s that the characters are their own worst enemies not just in a figurative sense, but in a literal one, too. Confused? Writer-director James Ward Byrkit has the answers, and he’s not stingy about providing them. What separates his film from other exercises in Twilight Zone trickery is its refusal to play coy with a high concept. Unlike, say, the feature-length rug-pull The Signal, Coherence doesn’t get off on withholding. It would rather milk its premise for all it’s worth than stockpile secrets. The result is an uncommonly clever genre movie, reliant not on special effects—of which there are basically none—but on heavy doses of paranoia. [A.A. Dowd]

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8 / 25

The Departed

The Departed

Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon
Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon
Screenshot: The Departed

The Hong Kong action movie Infernal Affairs has the sort of hook that would fill an arena in the rock world: Two police-academy graduates work as moles on opposite sides of the law—one as an undercover cop in the mob, the other as a gangster infiltrating the police department. Shot through by his most propulsive storytelling since Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese’s remake, The Departed, orchestrates such a perfect balance between these mirroring characters that the film achieves a kind of musical symmetry. And in a Boston neighborhood where all the little Irish boys grow up to be cops or criminals, the parallels between them are unmistakable; as Jack Nicholson’s hard-nosed kingpin puts it, “When you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?” In Scorsese’s world, such dreadful ambiguities coarsen the soul. [Scott Tobias]

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9 / 25

The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden
The Handmaiden
Photo: Magnolia

Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden is a fiendishly clever, sinfully funny con-job melodrama, the kind that keeps yanking the rug out from under everyone on screen and off. If that’s all the film was, it would still be a must-see, at least for those who don’t mind a little graphic violence and kinky sex to go with their misdirection. But for all its twists, turns, and betrayals, the most shocking thing about the film is that it’s also, quite possibly and quite improbably, a genuinely romantic movie. That’s right: The extreme South Korean director of Oldboy and Stoker made a love story, one where the lovers aren’t related or vampires or anything! To get to it, you just have to peel back all the layers of deception, just like the characters do. The movie is based on Sarah Waters’ 2002 novel Fingersmith, with which Park takes some creative liberties, including moving the story from Victorian era Britain to the Korea of the 1930s, when the country was occupied by the Japanese. Tamako (Kim Tae-ri), a poor villager, is hired to serve as the new handmaiden for wealthy Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Right Now, Wrong Then’s Kim Min-hee), who lives with her old, lecherous uncle (Cho Jin-woong) at a vast country estate. No sooner has the young woman arrived, however, than Park cues up the first of many flashbacks, revealing that Tamako is actually (dramatic pause) Sook-hee, a pickpocket working with a con man, Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), to cheat the heiress out of her fortune. The plan involves convincing Lady Hideko to marry the count, then throwing her into a loony bin and splitting the inheritance. There’s just one tiny little snag: The two women have gotten closer and closer—and Sook-hee may be falling in love with her mark. [A.A. Dowd]

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10 / 25

Hereditary

Hereditary

Hereditary
Hereditary
Photo: A24

Of all the blood-curdling images conjured up by Hereditary, the most traumatically terrifying horror movie in ages, one sticks out as particularly definitive: Toni Collette, face twisted into a grotesque grimace of fear, staring off screen at a ghastly something we’ll soon have the bad luck of laying eyes on too. Her recurring expression of fright and pain is more than just a perfect mirror, reflecting back the audience’s own mounting distress. It also captures, in shuddery microcosm, the tactics of this relentless, ingenious shocker, the way it builds its haunted house on a foundation of raw and ugly emotion. The real horror—a tempest of unspoken, unspeakable feeling—lurks behind the safer, faker kind, enhancing every macabre funhouse moment. [A.A. Dowd]

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11 / 25

Inception

Inception

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Leonardo DiCaprio
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Leonardo DiCaprio
Screenshot: Inception

There are only a handful of filmmakers capable of infusing spectacle with ideas, and among those, director Christopher Nolan feels uniquely tapped into the anxieties of the day. Two separate but related millennial fears drive Nolan’s ambitious, mostly dazzling new opus Inception: We have no control over our lives, and reality as we used to understand it no longer exists—or at least has been fundamentally destabilized. Squaring the beautifully engineered puzzles of Memento and The Prestige with the chaos and anarchy brought by the Joker in The Dark Knight, Inception takes place largely in a dreamscape where thieves of the mind fend off attacks from rebellious agents that clutter the subconscious. It’s a metaphysical heist picture, staged in worlds on top of worlds like nothing since Synecdoche, New York, and executed with a minimum of hand-holding. [Scott Tobias]

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12 / 25

King Of New York

King Of New York

Christopher Walken
Christopher Walken
Screenshot: King Of New York

Coming after a long purgatory in half-hearted B-pictures and TV land, where he directed episodes of Miami Vice and the Crime Story pilot, Abel Ferrara’s operatic 1990 gangster film King Of New York confirmed his affinity for the morally wayward and contradictory. A businessman, a philanthropist, and an executioner rolled into one, Christopher Walken elects himself mayor of the streets, which to him means confusing greed with altruism: Once he controls the city’s drug trade, by any bloody means necessary, the other sleazy kingpins will be eliminated and a portion of the proceeds will finance community projects like an underfunded hospital in the South Bronx. After serving a long prison sentence, the scarily opaque Walken and his cronies (Laurence Fishburne, Steve Buscemi, and Giancarlo Esposito, among others) seize their turf through a sweeping coup, eliminating their competitors by force. With the police hogtied by procedure, rogue cop David Caruso and a few of his fellow officers (including Wesley Snipes) try to stop Walken’s gang on their own, over the objections of by-the-book lieutenant Victor Argo. A Martin Scorsese discovery who appeared in five other Ferrara films, Argo is arguably the audience’s lone surrogate in a shady urban landscape; his earthy features and self-effacing style make him a memorable foil to the flashier Walken. Without his quiet authority, King Of New York might be written off as an unrepentant gangsta playbook, all sleaze and decadence without the ballast of common decency. [Scott Tobias]

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13 / 25

Knives Out

Knives Out

Ana De Armas and Daniel Craig
Ana De Armas and Daniel Craig
Photo: Lionsgate

Rian Johnson’s witty and phenomenally entertaining whodunit may have been inspired by classic Agatha Christie adaptations, but its underlying story of fortune and upward mobility owes more to Charles Dickens (who had his own fondness for mystery plots). Explaining why, however, would involve spoiling some of the film’s crucial twists. After a famous mystery novelist dies of an apparent (but very suspicious) suicide on his 85th birthday, an anachronistic “gentleman sleuth” (Daniel Craig) arrives to investigate the family of the deceased—a rogues’ gallery of useless modern-day aristocrats that includes a trust-fund playboy, an “alt-right” shitposter, and a New Age lifestyle guru. Johnson, who made his name with geeky delights like Brick and Looper before hitting it big with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, finds ingenious solutions to the rules of the murder-mystery movie formula. But more impressively, he manages to stake out a moral position in a genre in which everyone is supposed to be a suspect. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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14 / 25

The Man From Nowhere

The Man From Nowhere

The Man From Nowhere
The Man From Nowhere
Screenshot:

The Man From Nowhere, the highest-grossing movie, foreign or domestic, in South Korea in 2010. (For comparison’s sake, America’s highest-grossing movie that same year was Toy Story 3.) The Man From Nowhere is a raw fucking film. It tells its story with an all-out intensity that no American action movie could ever hope to match. It gets complicated, but here are the broad strokes: A quiet, mysterious loner lives by himself in an apartment building and runs a pawnshop. The only person he ever talks to is one neighbor, a little girl whose mother is a reckless heroin addict. He acts annoyed whenever the little girl comes around, but he looks after her. The mother steals some heroin from some gangsters, and so they kidnap both the mother and the girl. And they’re not just drug traffickers; they’re also organ harvesters, and they plan to do some bad things to these poor people. So the pawnshop owner, who happens to be a former special forces assassin, has to take on this entire merciless criminal syndicate to get his friend back. [Tom Breihan]

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15 / 25

Midsommar

Midsommar

Midsommar
Midsommar
Photo: A24

Midsommar, a disturbing, ambitious, and unsettlingly colorful horror movie from the writer-director of Hereditary, unfolds within a remote village in northern Sweden, a land where the sun never completely sets. The place doesn’t look especially threatening, in its bucolic summer-camp splendor, and neither do its residents, a community of calm, welcoming, very… Swedish hippies, decked out in white frocks and garlands, smiles plastered perennially across their faces. Audiences will, of course, know to instinctively distrust them; in a horror movie about a cult, the true believers often come on friendly, the better to lure sacrificial lambs to the slaughter. But in Midsommar, that mask of holistic, New-Age-that’s-really-very-Old-Age congeniality never entirely slips, even when the bloodshed starts. And that’s a big part of the movie’s black magic, its spooky-queasy power: It makes madness look like an extension of the commune’s blissed-out worldview—a benevolent malevolence. [A.A. Dowd]

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16 / 25

Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol

Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol

Jeremy Renner and Tom Cruise
Jeremy Renner and Tom Cruise
Screenshot: Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol

Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, the series’ fourth film, charges director Brad Bird with the task, betting that the animator behind The Incredibles and Ratatouille would have similar luck with flesh and blood in his live-action debut. The bet pays off. And then some. Bird brings a scary amount of assurance to Ghost Protocol. His action scenes are clean, coherent, thrilling, and visceral, never more than in a mid-film sequence in Dubai that piles setpiece atop setpiece as the action moves in, around, up, and down the Burj Khalifa skyscraper—the tallest building in the world. As Tom Cruise clings to the side of the building using malfunctioning equipment, and a sandstorm looms in the distance, the question shifts from whether Bird can direct an action film to whether there’s anyone out there who can top him. [Keith Phipps]

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17 / 25

Resolution

Resolution

Resolution
Resolution
Screenshot:

Like an indie analog to The Cabin In The Woods—and set, in fact, in a cabin in the woods—the meta-horror movie Resolution makes its own creative crisis the star, trying to make something original out of elements so hackneyed, the filmmakers can’t bear to reproduce them. What starts as the simple story of one friend trying to wean another off drugs by force becomes freighted, gimmick by ridiculous gimmick, a willfully absurd dogpile of horror-movie scare tactics—escapees from an asylum down the road, ominous old photographs and 8mm movies, webcam footage from an unseen camera. And the whole thing is set on an Indian reservation! That last element recalls Stanley Kubrick’s own seeming mockery of the genre in The Shining, in which an Indian burial ground adds more grim mythology to a hotel that has plenty already. Though its commentary is slight, Resolution makes a clever appeal to viewers who have seen it all. [Scott Tobias]

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18 / 25

A Simple Favor

A Simple Favor

A Simple Favor
A Simple Favor
Photo: Lionsgate

Gallons of ink have been spilled on Paul Feig’s female-focused approach to comedy, so why isn’t one of the year’s best vehicles for women getting more press? Starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively in a twisted tale of suburban intrigue, A Simple Favor pioneers the subgenre of mommy-blog noir. But while it lives in the mundane realm of play dates and PTA meetings, the film also recognizes that, while they might spend a lot of time with kids, its characters (and target audience!) are still intelligent adults with sophisticated tastes, from dry gin martinis to designer menswear. [Katie Rife]

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19 / 25

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold
Screenshot:

By 1965, when Martin Ritt’s adaptation of John le Carré’s breakthrough novel The Spy Who Came In From The Cold was released to theaters, Sean Connery was already three movies into his stint as James Bond, and the Bond version of a spy’s life had become entrenched in the popular imagination. That’s unfortunate, because the image Richard Burton cultivates in Ritt’s film—cynical and world-weary, yet crafty, brave, and patriotic—seems closer to the real thing, as does the stuffy bureaucracy of the spy game. Yes, it’s still a dangerous occupation, but it’s neither glamorous nor action-packed; in most instances, Burton’s job is to outsmart his adversaries and devise how to navigate the Cold War’s shifting allegiances and subtle treachery. In a tense opening standoff at a checkpoint between East and West Berlin, Burton’s weathered British agent watches in horror as East German troops shoot down a valuable operative. After he’s recalled to London and demoted to a desk job in his agency—by appearances, anyway—East German intelligence officials sense they have a potential defector on their hands, and work to woo Burton to the communist side. In concert with a pushy interrogator (Oskar Werner), Burton seeks to implicate another East German as a double agent working for the British, but of course, he has ulterior motives. The one major wrinkle is his romantic relationship with a British librarian (Claire Bloom), which figures in at a pivotal moment. [Scott Tobias]

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20 / 25

Stonehearst Asylum

Stonehearst Asylum

Illustration for article titled The best thriller movies on Amazon Prime
Photo: Stonehearst Asylum

Stonehearst Asylum is the kind of hothouse psychological thriller that frames itself around unexpected reveals, and it’s hard to say much of substance about the movie without disclosing the first of its many plot twists. On his first night on the asylum grounds, intern Newgate (Jim Sturgess) discovers that the superintendent, Dr. Lamb (Ben Kingsley), the groundskeeper, Finn (David Thewlis), and the rest of the staff are actually patients who have deposed the asylum’s real superintendent, Dr. Salt (Michael Caine), and imprisoned him along with his staff in dank basement cells. This is where the movie’s source material, the Edgar Allan Poe short story “The System Of Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether,” ends, but it’s where Stonehearst takes off, subverting genre expectations by turning the inmates into representatives of modernity. The presence of Kingsley—as well as all the ornate cabinetry and shadowy atmosphere—might suggest Shutter Island, but the real referent appears to be Tod Browning’s Freaks, with its complicated mixture of fear and sympathy. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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21 / 25

Super 8

Super 8

Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, and Ron Eldard
Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, and Ron Eldard
Screenshot: Super 8

For a stretch of the 1980s, there wasn’t enough Steven Spielberg to go around. While continuing to direct a movie every year or two, Spielberg produced films that had the look and feel of Spielberg-by-proxy, films filled with end-of-childhood adventures, suburbs, and small towns that doubled as unexpected sites of wonder or horror. In the best of them, directors like Joe Dante and Robert Zemeckis put their personal stamp on Spielbergian themes while creating popcorn-friendly films to rival their inspiration. Set in the streets, magic-hour-blanketed hills, and cluttered suburban homes of a small Ohio town as the 1970s edge into the ’80s, the J.J. Abrams-scripted-and-directed Super 8—which Spielberg produced—consciously, and successfully, looks back to an era of abundant Spielbergiana. [Keith Phipps]

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22 / 25

To Catch A Thief

To Catch A Thief

Cary Grant and Grace Kelly
Cary Grant and Grace Kelly
Screenshot: To Catch A Thief

In Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief, Cary Grant plays a former hero of the French resistance who can’t quite convince a skeptical world that he’s mended his ways and abandoned his glamorous old existence as a diamond thief for a life of simple, legal pleasures. Grant’s criminal history works against him in that respect, but it’s also quite possible that the film’s characters would rather inhabit a world in which Cary Grant is a debonair international jewel thief than one in which he’s a mere retiree content to while away lazy afternoons tending his garden. With the possible exception of “secret agent,” “continental master thief” seems like the only job worthy of Grant. As befits a movie with a protagonist nicknamed “The Cat,” Thief proceeds with feline grace, a blissful light-footedness that looks effortless enough, but could only have been accomplished by a master operating at peak form. If nothing else, Thief is a lesson in charisma courtesy of Grant and Grace Kelly, reluctant lovebirds who find love in larceny and larceny in love. [Nathan Rabin]

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23 / 25

The Vast Of The Night

The Vast Of The Night

The Vast Of The Night
The Vast Of The Night
Photo: Amazon Studios

A popular mantra in the digital era is “You have a smartphone, you have YouTube, no excuses.” But that’s only half the truth. The flip side to this accessibility is that, while making a movie is easier than ever, it’s still difficult to stand out in an oversaturated media landscape. Just finishing the thing is an achievement, to be sure. But if you’re serious about getting it seen, you’ve got to understand both your strengths and your limitations and apply them in a way that will make your vision distinct. For an object lesson in the matter, aspiring filmmakers would do well to examine self-taught director Andrew Patterson’s debut feature, The Vast Of Night. Set in the tiny border town of Cayuga, New Mexico (pop. 492) sometime in the 1950s, The Vast Of Night proceeds from an archetypical—some might even say clichéd—sci-fi premise. All you need to hear are the words “New Mexico” and “1950s” to figure out where the plot is headed, which does make its inevitable conclusion feel a little bit, well, inevitable. But that’s a minor issue, as the appeal of this story lies not in its twists and turns but its telling. Patterson, along with screenwriters James Montague and Craig W. Sanger, apply their influences and inspirations to The Vast Of Night in ingenious ways, making for a film that feels fresh despite being composed of classic elements. [Katie Rife]

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24 / 25

You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here

Joaquin Phoenix in You Were Never Really Here
Joaquin Phoenix in You Were Never Really Here
Photo: Amazon Studios

Director Lynne Ramsay’s latest dive into the deepest, most diabolical trenches of the human psyche is as fractured as the consciousness of its protagonist, the physically intimidating, psychologically fragile assassin-for-hire Joe (Joaquin Phoenix). Ramsay swings between understatement and excess with bravado, a destabilizing tactic that injects every loaded silence with a sense of palpable dread. The result is an impressionistic fugue state of a film that illuminates moments of unspeakable violence with the blinding indifference of a flashbulb, a series of Polaroid photographs stashed under a dirty, bloodstained mattress in a blighted Skid Row hotel room. But for all of its grim, broad-shouldered misanthropy, You Were Never Ready Here also finds time for moments of simple, unspoiled beauty—ephemeral, but beautiful nonetheless. [Katie Rife]

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25 / 25