The best thriller movies on Netflix

The best thriller movies on Netflix

Clockwise from top left: Nightcrawler (Screenshot); Uncut Gems (Photo: A24); We Summon The Darkness (Photo: Saban Films); The Autopsy Of Jane Doe (Photo: IFC Midnight); Midnight Special (Screenshot); Killing Them Softly (Screenshot); Gerald’s Game (Photo: Netflix)
Clockwise from top left: Nightcrawler (Screenshot); Uncut Gems (Photo: A24); We Summon The Darkness (Photo: Saban Films); The Autopsy Of Jane Doe (Photo: IFC Midnight); Midnight Special (Screenshot); Killing Them Softly (Screenshot); Gerald’s Game (Photo: Netflix)

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 title at the top of each slide for some in-depth coverage 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 Netflix list, but we decided horror 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 Netflix as a thriller (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 Netflix announces new additions to their library.

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

This list was most recently updated Oct. 1, 2020.

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2 / 33

1BR

1BR

1BR
1BR
Screenshot:

When Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) first moves into an L.A. apartment complex where people actually seem to care about their neighbors, any denizen of a major city will think they know where 1BR is going. And it is—for a little while. What’s interesting about writer-director David Marmor’s feature debut is the fact that, 45 minutes in, the film reaches what would be the natural end point of most horror movies about cults. Then it keeps going. Real-life details culled from ex-members’ accounts of life in groups like Scientology and NXIVM give the film an edgy ripped-from-the-headlines quality, as well as reinforcing the sheer L.A. of it all. If you enjoyed The Invitation, keep this one on your radar. [Katie Rife]

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3 / 33

The Autopsy Of Jane Doe

The Autopsy Of Jane Doe

The Autopsy Of Jane Doe
The Autopsy Of Jane Doe
Photo: IFC Midnight

Going by its title alone, The Autopsy Of Jane Doe sounds like a Faces Of Death knockoff or maybe one of those Japanese gore videos from the ’80s like the one that made Charlie Sheen call the cops because he thought he was watching a real snuff film. No such mistakes could possibly be made about Norwegian director André Øvredal’s follow-up to his breakout hit Trollhunter—not for a lack of gore, but thanks to its self-imposed stylistic restraint. Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox co-star as Austin and Tommy Tilden, a father-son coroner team tasked with performing an emergency autopsy on an unidentified woman found in a shallow grave at the scene of a murder. The assumption is that this woman, the Jane Doe of the title, was one of the victims. But as the Tildens crack open her chest with a giant pair of pliers and begin poking around, it becomes obvious that “Jane Doe” is no ordinary corpse. Large chunks of the film are devoted to the autopsy, with voice of experience Cox providing expository narration as he digs around; each new step provides a new clue to Doe’s true identity, playing out like a murder mystery where the clues are inside the victim’s body. The best way to describe the procedure itself is “clinical,” explicit but not exploitative, with the camera, for the most part, maintaining a professional distance from the proceedings. [Katie Rife]

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4 / 33

Await Further Instructions

Await Further Instructions

Await Further Instructions
Await Further Instructions
Screenshot:

A pair of inventive low-budget thrillers brings the spirit of The Twilight Zone alive with their respective narratives. Those who appreciate a good Rod Serling story (albeit one livened up with some nutso John Carpenter-esque horror) will be rewarded by Await Further Instructions, a bottle episode of a movie that finds a family waking up Christmas morning to discover their entire building has been covered with a metallic-like substance, trapping them inside. Their only information: a notification on the TV screen that reads, “Await further instructions.” Inconsistent characterization and people behaving like morons hampers some of the momentum, but overall this descent into paranoia succeeds as a dark little parable—and it has a wild ending. [Alex McLevy]

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5 / 33

Basic Instinct

Basic Instinct

Sharon Stone
Sharon Stone
Screenshot: Basic Instinct

Though many years and straight-to-video Shannon Tweed knockoffs have passed, Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct retains a special allure, one that can be attributed in large part to the uncrossing of Sharon Stone’s legs. Granted, there’s much more to the movie than that notorious interrogation scene, but no better example of the film’s unique mix of vulgarity and elegance, which brought Old Hollywood into a world of trashy explicitness. Sitting with her blond hair pinned back like Kim Novak—one of several nods to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo—Stone carries herself with the supreme self-confidence of a classic femme fatale, yet her candor is unquestionably modern, liberated from more than just undergarments. Unapologetically sexual, as free as a man to pursue her appetites, Stone’s character became an instant post-feminist icon, even though she’s a diabolical sociopath. [Scott Tobias]

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6 / 33

Before I Wake

Before I Wake

Before I Wake
Before I Wake
Photo: Netflix

A horror fantasy about the worst fears of parents and children, Before I Wake imagines a married couple, Jessie (Kate Bosworth) and Mark (Thomas Jane), trying to move on after their son’s death by taking in an 8-year-old orphan who’s gone from foster home to foster home under mysterious circumstances. Waiting for the new arrival, Mark screws grab bars to the tub wall (their boy drowned in the bath, which is basically every first-time parent’s nightmare) while Jessie takes down the family photos from the living room, enacting an unwittingly creepy ritual of preparation; skewed in a horror movie’s exposition, the things adults think will make kids safe seem conspiratorial and sick. But slyly, the film keeps turning viewer sympathies about who might be the bigger threat to whom. As the new foster parents soon discover, the kid, Cody (Room’s Jacob Tremblay), possesses a dangerous supernatural power, and when he falls asleep, his dreams haunt the house—projections of a small child’s manias (butterflies are Cody’s favorite subject) and uneasy thoughts about grown-ups and themselves. Often, Cody dreams of the dead son, Sean (Antonio Romero), the little boy’s face unnervingly frozen in the rictus of the only photo of him he’s seen. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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7 / 33

The Blackcoat’s Daughter

The Blackcoat’s Daughter

The Blackcoat’s Daughter
The Blackcoat’s Daughter
Photo: A24

The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a clammy hand on the back of the neck, a chill running down the spine, a shot of ice water straight to the veins. Every moment, almost every shot, has been carefully calibrated to stand hairs on end. Most of Frank Oz’s Blackcoat’s Daughter takes place at a fictional, religious boarding school for girls, on the precipice of a long holiday weekend. It’s an unsettling setting: darkened and deserted dormitories, surrounded by dead trees, blanketed in snow. Rose (Sing Street’s Lucy Boynton), who fears she may be pregnant, gets stuck looking after freshman Kat (Kiernan Shipka) while the two girls wait for their parents to retrieve them for winter break, one day late. Trouble is, Kat’s parents aren’t coming. Something horrible has befallen them, leaving their daughter vulnerable to a dark influence. Meanwhile, another young woman, Joan (Emma Roberts), makes her way to the same sleepy East Coast town, hitching a ride with some good samaritans. The plot is bare bones, a skeleton to drench in dread. [A.A. Dowd]

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8 / 33

Cam

Cam

Cam
Cam
Photo: Blumhouse

For years now, I’ve found it strange that there were only two or three good movies about the internet, the most important thing in the world. My wish for a film truthfully capturing all the connection, gratification, desperation, and despair of living online came true with this sophisticated thriller, in which a cam girl (Madeline Brewer, making a convincing argument for herself as a bona fide star) discovers that an automated doppelgänger has taken over her channel. There’s a lot to love here, from the low-key sex-positivity to the cringe comedy to the delectable supporting turn from former love witch Samantha Robinson. But I like Cam best as our most ruthlessly honest film about the nightmares of full-time freelancing. [Charles Bramesco]

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9 / 33

Closed Circuit

Closed Circuit

Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall
Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall
Screenshot: Closed Circuit

Legal thrillers went out of fashion around the time Clinton left office, which is kind of a shame. Even at their most ludicrous, these twisty tales of crusading attorneys provide a minor brain buzz—the fun of keeping pace with a dedicated investigator as he or she unpacks a convoluted mystery. (Few of them are truly intelligent, but they do get the mind racing.) Closed Circuit, a faintly upscale potboiler about two lawyers snooping their way into hot water, revives some of the (guilty) pleasures of this out-of-vogue genre. Timely references to government surveillance and the ongoing war on terror can’t diminish the feeling of being transported back to the golden age of John Grisham—a time when plucky civil servants put their careers (and lives) on the line, cases were never cut-and-dry, and conspiracies always lead straight to the seemingly trustworthy character played by a suspiciously big-name actor. [A.A. Dowd]

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10 / 33

Creep 2

Creep 2

Creep 2
Creep 2
Photo: The Orchard

Let’s make something clear up front: Creep 2 is not a scary movie. Despite a plot that concerns a serial killer and the unsuspecting woman who answers his Craigslist ad and drives to his remote home in the woods, there is nothing about the film that would inspire much in the way of goosebumps. (A few small jump scares are played more for laughs than shrieks of fright.) Whereas the first Creep wrung tension from the familiar tricks of the found-footage style, the new one assumes the viewer already knows the situation with its homicidal subject, and doesn’t really try to generate chills from it. Instead, it’s a serial-killer midlife crisis: Within the first five minutes, Mark Duplass’ character has already desultorily cut someone’s throat, sat morosely as the blood congealed, and said, with heavy existential ennui straight to the camera he snuck into the house, “What’s happening to me?” A slasher sequel this is not. But for fans of the original who don’t mind the loss of scares, Creep 2 improves on the first film in nearly every way, from tone to dialogue to plot. Aesthetically, the two films are more or less identical, as director Patrick Brice maintains a straightforward functional approach to the material. As in the first, the protagonist is a filmmaker, or at least a wannabe filmmaker, thereby narratively justifying a steadier and more professional level of camerawork. This series isn’t all that pretty to look at, but as far as found-footage cinematography goes, it sits firmly in the upper tier. [Alex McLevy]

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11 / 33

Drive

Drive

Ryan Gosling
Ryan Gosling
Photo: Drive

“I’m a driver,” says Ryan Gosling in Drive, and he doesn’t need to say another word. With that simple utterance, Nicolas Winding Refn’s minimalist thriller defines its aesthetic—lean, efficient, and sharpened to the finest point. At a time when action films routinely pass off freneticness as excitement, Drive is a reminder of how powerful the genre can be when every shot and every line of dialogue has a purpose, deployed for maximum impact. Owing a debt to the Zen-like simplicity and nocturnal L.A. ambience of Walter Hill’s The Driver—which, in turn, took a page from Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï—the film is little more than an exercise in style, but it’s dazzling and mythic, a testament to the fundamental appeal of fast cars, dangerous men, and tension that squeezes like a hand to the throat. [Scott Tobias]

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12 / 33

El Camino

El Camino

Aaron Paul
Aaron Paul
Photo: Ben Rothstein (Netflix

Transformation remains the primary subject of Gilligan’s work in the Breaking Bad-verse, and with El Camino, he’s once more taken the raw materials of unanswered questions and inessential franchise extension and turned them into intoxicatingly potent entertainment. The movie is more of a nail-biting crowd-pleaser than the relationship-based drama of the often-muted Better Call Saul; it’s also much more interested in reversing the polarity of its parent program. As he lays low and cobbles together an escape plan, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) slinks through the shadows of a hometown so impacted by his criminal activities that even his cozy childhood home bears traces of collateral damage wrought by the Heisenberg empire. It’s like time-lapse photography of Breaking Bad’s eggs being unscrambled: One flashy set piece finds Jesse tearing an apartment apart as if it were the negative image of Walt and him assembling their temporary meth lab in one of Vamonos Pest’s tented houses. Indelible pictures like this emerge, but El Camino keeps one foot planted in serialized television, another in cinematic one-offs. Of course, the filmmaking on Breaking Bad was plenty ambitious to start with, so it’s not like Gilligan, cinematographer Marshall Adams, and editor Skip Macdonald have great leaps to make in order to elevate their POV shots and whiplash time jumps to the level of something grander. [Erik Adams]

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13 / 33

The Endless

The Endless

The Endless
The Endless
Photo: Well Go USA

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have been working together for so long now, they might as well be brothers. Six years after the release of Resolution, the filmmaking duo has returned—both thematically and physically—to the site of their first feature film, expanding upon its fascination with Lovecraftian beasts that lurk in the dark and inexplicable hiccups in the fabric of space-time. The result is The Endless, a film that blends such disparate elements as apocalyptic doomsday cults, roadside Mystery Spots, quantum physics, and brotherly love into an ingeniously heady brew. And although The Endless works just fine as a standalone film, looking at it in the wider context of Benson and Moorhead’s work highlights another, more meta theme: the desire to return to an earlier, simpler period in one’s life, and relive those glory days forever. Benson and Moorhead star, appropriately enough, as brothers Justin and Aaron, who as the film opens are surviving on ramen noodles as minimum-wage house cleaners in Los Angeles. Their lives are as dull as they come, but they’re guarding a very unusual secret: As teenagers, they escaped a UFO cult bent on mass suicide. Justin, who led the exodus and has viewed his brother as both a responsibility and a burden ever since, takes a darkly cynical view of their time in the cult. Meanwhile, younger brother Aaron is nostalgic for what he remembers about his childhood, which is sunshine, good food, and a sense of belonging. [Katie Rife]

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14 / 33

Gerald’s Game

Gerald’s Game

Gerald’s Game
Gerald’s Game
Photo: Netflix

Coming off of the positive critical buzz surrounding 2016’s Hush and Ouija: Origin Of Evil, Flanagan decided to re-team with Hush producer Netflix for a film adaptation of Gerald’s Game. It’s not an easy sell: Not only is King’s book structured in such a way as to make it extremely difficult to adapt—much of it takes place inside the mind of the main character, Jessie (Carla Gugino), as she lies handcuffed to a bed, alone and unable to escape, after her husband dies mid-kinky sex—but it deals with some very challenging themes of sexual abuse and the silencing of women. Thankfully, Flanagan’s film is up to the challenge, thanks in large part to Gugino and her compelling performance, which deftly expresses emotions from panic to grief to despair to rage, sometimes all at once. [Katie Rife]

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15 / 33

Green Room

Green Room

Green Room
Green Room
Screenshot:

Green Room is a rare gift from the genre gods: a nasty, punk-as-fuck midnight movie made by a genuine artist, a filmmaker with a great eye and a true understanding of the people and places he’s splattering in viscera. His name is Jeremy Saulnier, and his last film, the similarly color-coded Blue Ruin, was an eccentric riff on the revenge thriller, featuring a soft-spoken, sad-eyed vagrant in the Charles Bronson role. Green Room, about a traveling hardcore band caught in a life-and-death standoff with white supremacists, is even better, even bloodier, even more grimly amusing than its predecessor. In clichéd rock-journalism parlance, it’s a bastard lovechild, what you might get if you could somehow mate one of Kelly Reichardt’s portraits of life on the Oregon fringe with one of John Carpenter’s castle-siege action vehicles. [A.A. Dowd]

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16 / 33

The Guest

The Guest

Dan Stevens
Dan Stevens
Screenshot: The Guest

There’s something not quite right about David (Dan Stevens), the title character of Adam Wingard’s wickedly entertaining thriller The Guest. At a glance, he seems like the model man in uniform—a polite, soft-spoken war veteran, blessed with both the all-American good looks and aw-shucks charisma of Chris Evans’ heroic Steve Rogers. Arriving without notice on the doorstep of the Petersons, to “look after” the family of his fallen brother-in-arms, David ingratiates himself immediately: The bereaved parents (Sheila Kelley and Leland Orser) see a little of their slain son in this accommodating visitor, while their meek youngest child, Luke (Brendan Meyer), gains a protective, surrogate older brother. Only teenage daughter Anna (Maika Monroe, a terrific Final Girl) senses what the audience does about this mysterious soldier, though her judgment is quickly clouded by a rush of hormones, the only sensible response to such rock-hard abs and old-fashioned congeniality. Who but the most iron-willed could resist the charms of this dashing military man? [A.A. Dowd]

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17 / 33

The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight
The Hateful Eight
Screenshot:

Quentin Tarantino’s stubbornly theatrical, three-hour-long snowed-in Western is a difficult movie by a director who’s not known for making them. Keeping action to a minimum up until the intermission, it then explodes into the nastiest, most gruesome and nihilistic violence of Tarantino’s career, before ending on a disquieting note of hope. This is the writer-director’s take on the promise of American ideals, even more so than Django Unchained, for which it was originally intended as a sequel. (Hence the protagonist, an anti-heroic black bounty hunter who, in the movie’s post-Civil War setting, is about the age Django would be.) Who could have guessed, in the days of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, that Tarantino would become an overtly political filmmaker? [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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18 / 33

Hush

Hush

Hush
Hush
Screenshot:

Though this tense home-invasion thriller involving sensory impairment went straight to Netflix, Mike Flanagan’s ruthlessly efficient Hush would play like gangbusters on the big screen. At just 81 minutes, the film wastes little time setting up its cat-and-mouse game, which pits a deaf novelist (Kate Siegel) against the psychopath stalking the perimeter of her secluded country home. The heroine’s impairment ratchets up the threat level (how can she fend off what she can’t hear?), and Hush toys with genre convention by unmasking the killer fairly quickly. Mostly, though, this is just an effectively straightforward exercise in suspense, one that further positions Flanagan—who also made the well-received Ouija prequel—as a filmmaker with a strong grasp on horror’s fundamentals. [A.A. Dowd]

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19 / 33

The Interview

The Interview

Hugo Weaving
Hugo Weaving
Screenshot: The Interview

A taut, suspenseful police procedural, The Interview has the twisty plot mechanics of The Usual Suspects, but it’s more concerned with the tricky technicalities involved in questioning and how they can allow a clever suspect to wriggle off the hook. In a tense game of matching wits, Tony Martin is every bit Hugo Weaving’s equal as an investigator determined to snare him, first for stealing a car and then for his possible role in abducting six missing persons. As far as the question of whether or not he’s remaking Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man, Monahan doesn’t tip his hand until the final shot, but he doesn’t make the accused’s guilt or innocence an arbitrary choice, either. There’s a fine line between grabbing an audience by the lapels and simply jerking it around that Monahan toes without falling off the wire, primarily because he keeps the action grounded in logic and plausibility. Staked on Weaving’s teasing, contradictory behavior—deeply sympathetic at times, troubling at others—The Interview is a rare thriller that challenges perception by repeatedly turning it inside-out. [Scott Tobias]

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The Invitation

The Invitation

The Invitation
The Invitation
Screenshot:

A skillfully executed slow-burn thriller for a cynical age, The Invitation begins on an ominous note as bearded L.A. hipster Will (Logan Marshall-Green), in the midst of a petty argument with his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), hits a coyote with his car. Unwilling to let the poor injured creature suffer, Will fetches a tire iron from his trunk and quickly dispatches it just off camera. Shaken, he gets back into the car, and the couple continues on their way to a dinner party being thrown by Will’s ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new beau David (Michiel Huisman) at the stylish midcentury modern home Eden and Will used to share. Will hasn’t seen his ex for two years, and is understandably anxious about their reunion. But everything, Kira assures him, will be fine. With this simple setup, director Karyn Kusama establishes the near-apocalyptic sense of dread that will dominate the rest of the film. [Katie Rife]

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The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell
Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell
Photo: A24

Unfolding with the inevitability of a bad dream, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is Lanthimos’ darkly intense, almost biblical spin on one of those thrillers about a yuppie family terrorized by a vengeful stalker. It’s like Cape Fear by way of The Shining, just in the same absurdist register as all of the Greek director’s trips to the Twilight Zone. To say where the plot goes would be unfair, but it involves a mysterious malady, an impossible choice, and a terrible reckoning. Those up on their Greek tragedy may recognize the outline of Iphigenia’s tussle with Artemis—a dispute that began, hint hint, with a slain deer. But you needn’t know for mythology to recognize a false deity, courting comeuppance by deciding who lives and who dies. [A.A. Dowd]

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Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly

Brad Pitt
Brad Pitt
Photo: Killing Them Softly

In Andrew Dominik’s superb revisionist Western The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, he staged the last days of an iconoclastic gangster with a strong feeling for how his story could take root in the American imagination. Dominik’s follow-up, Killing Them Softly, makes that subtext text, wondering aloud what makes America America, and exploring the greed and avarice that cannot be extricated from the freedom and opportunity that’s supposed to make the country great. While it isn’t unusual for nasty little genre movies like Dominik’s stylish heist thriller to smuggle such themes under the surface, Killing Them Softly makes them startlingly explicit. All the criminal mayhem that composes it—an audacious robbery and the bloody retribution that follows—is mere prelude to a thesis statement, support for a grim assessment of the country on the eve of the 2008 Presidential election. [Scott Tobias]

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Midnight Special

Midnight Special

Midnight Special
Midnight Special
Screenshot:

In the opening scene of Midnight Special, two armed men sneak a boy out of a motel room and into a customized ’72 Chevelle before peeling off into the dusk. The mulberry sky turns blue-gray with twilight, and then pitch black. The driver hits a toggle switch wired behind the steering wheel, cutting off the headlamps and taillights. The car disappears into the darkness. It will be about 40 minutes before the viewer even finds out how the men, Roy (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton), know each other, though by then they will have ditched the Chevelle for a plumber’s white Ford Econoline van and, later, an Isuzu Trooper. Midnight Special is very particular about its cars, just as it’s very particular about its setting—the gas stations, motels, and working-class suburbs of the Bible Belt—and the cautious speech of its characters. In every other respect, Jeff Nichols’ compelling sci-fi chase film is terse and elliptical, showing little and telling less. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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24 / 33

Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler

Jake Gyllenhaal
Jake Gyllenhaal
Screenshot: Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler is well worth seeing just for Jake Gyllenhaal’s spectacularly creepy performance. Blinking as little as possible and speaking every line with robotic conviction, he makes Louis the sort of person who discovered early in life that it’s possible to get away with nearly anything so long as one couches one’s words in the right tone, except that he has a truly warped notion of what the right tone is. Even the most obnoxiously persistent door-to-door salesmen have nothing on this guy, who treats everybody he encounters as an obstacle to be politely mowed down with bland verbiage derived from corporate jargon. It’s a mesmerizing turn from an actor who, while frequently quite good, has never really had a breakout role until this one. Nightcrawler gave him a chance to make a lasting impression, and he takes full, fanatical advantage. [Mike D’Angelo]

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See You Yesterday

See You Yesterday

See You Yesterday
See You Yesterday
Screenshot:

In his feature-length debut, See You Yesterday, co-writer and director Stefon Bristol asks one of sci-fi’s most indulgent questions: If you had the power to travel through time, what would you go back and change? When 16-year-old science prodigy Claudette Walker (Eden Duncan-Smith)—affectionately referred to as CJ by her friends and family—and her best friend, Sebastian Thomas (Dante Crichlow), successfully build a pair of time-traveling backpacks, they don’t exactly have the luxury of securing riches or rubbing elbows with famous historical figures. Instead, they harness their newfound power in an attempt to save CJ’s older brother, who is murdered by the police on his way home from a party about a third of a way into the story. It’s a sobering twist on a classic premise, and such a dichotomy should result in tonal whiplash. Instead, See You Yesterday, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival before finding a home at Netflix, finds a striking-yet-natural balance between genre concept and a harsh reality that is achingly familiar to the people who have to navigate it every day. [Shannon Miller]

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The Silence Of The Lambs

The Silence Of The Lambs

Anthony Hopkins
Anthony Hopkins
Screenshot: The Silence Of The Lambs

After scaring the wits out of millions, Jonathan Demme’s The Silence Of The Lambs joined It Happened One Night and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest as one of the few movies to score Oscars in all five major categories (Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, Screenplay). Hiring Demme, surely among the warmest and most humane American directors, to handle such a violent story turned out to be a masterstroke of casting against type: He knew from his early years working for Roger Corman how to deliver the genre goods, but his empathy, particularly with regard to women, is what makes the film so enduring. Jodie Foster’s journey makes the film a terrifying fable, and far more than the sum of its overflowing case file. [Rob Dean]

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Simon Killer

Simon Killer

Simon Killer
Simon Killer
Screenshot:

Writer-director Antonio Campos’ 2008 debut feature, Afterschool, was a deeply upsetting film, telling the story of an alienated boarding-school student so intimately that the viewer doesn’t immediately notice how psychologically damaged the kid is. Campos’ Simon Killer takes a similar approach, subjectivity-wise. The hero, played by Brady Corbet, is a recent college grad who takes a trip to Paris to recover from a recent break-up, and as he mopes around the city, trying and failing to meet people—and even having trouble masturbating without some difficulty—the movie asks for sympathy for this fumbling sad sack. Then Corbet develops an obsession with prostitute Mati Diop, and as he tries to come up with a way to afford to stay in Paris, he makes some disturbing choices, and Campos gradually edges the rug out from under the audience. [Noel Murray]

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Gary Oldman
Gary Oldman
Screenshot: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Coming from a veteran of British intelligence, le Carré’s fiction offers a counterpoint to the glamorous spy tales of Ian Fleming and others. In his books, espionage is a high-stakes game of bluffs and double-bluffs played by unsmiling men in sparsely appointed rooms. Here, Gary Oldman plays one of the most famous of those unsmiling men, frequent le Carré protagonist George Smiley, a British-intelligence lifer who, as the film opens, has been forced into semi-retirement following the high-profile failure, and subsequent death, of his mentor (John Hurt). When it becomes apparent that a mole remains in place in a position of power back at “The Circus,” Oldman doesn’t get to enjoy his time off for long. [Keith Phipps]

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Uncut Gems

Uncut Gems

Adam Sandler
Adam Sandler
Photo: A24

Expanding the frenetic, panic-attack-inducing cinema of Good Time with novelistic ambition, the brothers Josh and Benny Safdie created a thrilling study of one man’s compulsive self-destruction with this tragicomedy about a hustling Manhattan jewelry dealer (Adam Sandler, in the best performance of his career) who owes a fortune in gambling debts. Already on the brink of implosion, Sandler’s Howard Ratner can’t stop making bets, convinced that his financial (and personal) salvation will come by way of a grapefruit-size lump of Ethiopian black opal. He’s reckless, neurotic, self-deluding, an addict, equal parts sucker and scammer—and perhaps more like us than we’d care to admit. Packed with memorable supporting characters (and impressive turns from newcomers like Julia Fox, Keith Williams Richards, and NBA star Kevin Garnett, who plays himself), Uncut Gems establishes the Safdies as masters of anxious existential grit; their style of overlapping dialogue and tension feels like the unlikely fusion of Robert Altman and Abel Ferrara. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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WarGames

WarGames

Matthew Broderick
Matthew Broderick
Screenshot: WarGames

In the opening scene of the 1983 blockbuster WarGames, two missile commanders (played by Michael Madsen and John Spencer!) receive an order to launch a nuclear attack, and one almost kills the other in a dispute over how to proceed. Those kind of “what if” scenarios were rampant in the Cold War era, and if WarGames were exclusively about nuclear paranoia, it would be an amusing nostalgia piece, quaintly reminding us of what we used to worry about. But WarGames is also about issues that still resonate, like Internet security, authoritarian arrogance, and coming of age. Director John Badham brings a light touch to Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes’ tense, well-structured script, by keeping the action focused on what matters most to the audience. Matthew Broderick plays a high-school computer geek—the prototypical model—who accidentally hacks into the system controlling the U.S. missile-defense system, and starts a simulation that the system reads as real. With his girlfriend Ally Sheedy by his side, Broderick tries to duck the military and find the system’s reclusive, misanthropic creator by using his phone-phreaking skills, his dot-matrix printer, and floppy discs roughly the size of a legal pad. What endures about WarGames is the way Broderick keeps trying to talk sense to both the adults and the computers—the former when they blindly follow what enormous electronic screens tell them to do, and the latter when they innocently ask, “Shall we play a game?” [Noel Murray]

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We Summon The Darkness

We Summon The Darkness

Alexandra Daddario in We Summon The Darkness
Alexandra Daddario in We Summon The Darkness
Photo: Saban Films

There’s been a burst of satanic panic-themed horror films over the past few years. From The Devil’s Candy to A Dark Song to, well, Satanic Panic, these movies play on the tropes and concepts that first came to national consciousness during the panic of the ’80s, when a wave of sensationalist media and conservative conspiracy theorists started pushing the idea that secret Satan-worshipping cults throughout the country were preying on America’s youth. It was horseshit, of course, but the upside is that it’s inspired some damn fine horror. And We Summon The Darkness doesn’t just embrace that source material: It gives it a soft, warm kiss, right before swiftly flicking its wrist and using the knife hidden in its sleeve to open up a vein and release an arterial spray of blood. We Summon The Darkness is a solidly entertaining little horror-thriller with a sharp sense of humor and an effective balance of those two elements. Honestly, it’s just smarter than most of its brethren, and never feels like it’s having to flail or do something suspiciously over-the-top to hold your attention. If anything, it maintains an even keel where lesser horror-comedy attempts would descend into slapstick. In that sense, it borrows a page from Johnny Knoxville’s even-keeled reverend, keeping his malevolent rage in check despite walking into his kitchen and seeing a murdered police officer lying in a pile of blood [Alex McLevy]

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Zodiac

Zodiac

Jake Gyllenhaal
Jake Gyllenhaal
Screenshot: Zodiac

For a brief period in the early ‘70s, the Zodiac killings transfixed the Bay Area, in large part because the killer used the media to hold the city hostage, forcing newspapers to run cryptic puzzles under the threat of further violence. But Zodiac, David Fincher’s masterful procedural about the elusive case, resonates at least as much for depicting what happened in the years after the murders faded from the public consciousness. A sort of flipside to Fincher’s Seven, which pulsed with the urgent need to catch a killer before he reached endgame, Zodiac is about what happens after a case goes cold and only a dedicated few remain to follow a trail that grows murkier by the day. An obsessive movie about the nature of obsession, it stays in perfect step with the men who chased these phantom leads, not so much because they felt some noble connection to the victims, but because they simply couldn’t leave a puzzle unsolved. [Scott Tobias]

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