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The Movies/TV 8 Ball: Top 8 2000s Psychological Thrillers

October 5, 2016 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas

Top 8 2000s Psychological Thrillers

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!

Horror month has begun here at 8 Ball Headquarters! As always, we’re spending the month of October looking at the scarier entries in cinema, and for our first week, we’re going high. With the release of The Girl on the Train on Friday, I thought it would be a good chance to look at one of my favorite genres in the psychological thriller. It’s often difficult for straight horror to gain critical traction, but when you put the scares and tension within the context of a less supernatural and more mental bent it becomes easier to appreciate. Arguably, the 2000s was among the best decades for the psychological thriller in recent memory, as the subgenre found new directors willing to play within the format and saw others take big jumps ahead in their maturity as filmmakers. This week we honor the mindbending thrillers of the 2000s.

Caveat: We have to define “psychological thriller,” because there is a fair amount of blur around the thriller genre in general and this subgenre in particular. A psychological thriller is a suspense film that focuses on the abnormality of its characters’ mental states. This includes characters who are insane or have otherwise-disconnected senses of reality, as well as those who fall distinctly into lines of moral ambiguity or obsession. A psychological thriller’s primary goal is to get under its audience’s skin by putting them in the viewpoint of someone with this sort of viewpoint. I’m sure there will be a lot of debate about films that could have qualified but I didn’t include because I felt they leaned away from the psychological aspect. As for dates, I’m looking at films released from 2000 to 2009.

Just Missing The Cut

Insomnia (2002)
Orphan (2009)
Three… Extremes (2004)
The Machinist (2004)
Mr. Brooks (2007)

#8: Oldboy (2003)

A good psychological thriller should stay with you for a while, making you examine your feelings about it. Some of the worst films in the genre are those that are utterly forgettable, because they fail to get under your skin properly. If there’s nothing else you can say about Oldboy, it’s that it is pretty much impossible to forget. Spike Lee’s attempt to remake this film flopped but the original, adapted by Park Chan-wook from the Japanese manga from Nobuaki Minegishi and Garon Tsuchiya, is a brutal and unforgiving film that doesn’t care about staying in the safe zones of mainstream cinema. Choi Min-sik shines as the protagonist Oh Dae-su, who is imprisoned without explanation for fifteen years and watches his life fall apart in isolation. Once he is freed, he goes on a quest for vengeance but learns that his captor isn’t done with him yet. Park made considerable changes to the source, including one particularly controversial point regarding the ending, and they all serve to make this a better mindscrew of a film. The fight scenes are unforgettable — and none more so than the demanding corridor fight scene which was shot as one continuous take and had zero editing of any kind outside of the CG knife blade stabbed in Oh Dae-su’s back. This is a beautifully-crafted film in which the violence is there not just to thrill; it all has a reason and the way it plays with its character’s minds is stunning. That lifts it up well above other psychological thrillers from the decade and makes it one of the true greats.

#7: From Hell (2001)

Next on the list is one that may be a bit controversial. From Hell is a film that has suffered just a touch in its reputation over the years, but one I’ve always had an appreciation for. Jack the Ripper is without question the most infamous serial killer of all-time, and Alan Moore’s graphic novel was inspired by an outlandish but salient theory about who was behind the killing of Whitechapel prostitutes in the 1880s. Like all the other film adaptations of his work, Moore was not a fan of From Hell but the way that it delves into the psyche of both the Ripper and its protagonist Frederick Abberline (loosely inspired by a real-life investigator of the case) make for some gripping moments. Alan and Albert Hughes ventured out of their comfort zone of modern urban dramas to take on this thriller and did a great job of recreating the moody London period setting. Neither Abberline nor the Ripper are particularly lucid characters; one’s an opium addict and the other is criminally insane — but Johnny Depp and Ian Holm really deliver in their respective performances. This one may not be everyone’s favorite film but for my money it’s a really fun and interesting take on the Ripper mythos.

#6: Memento (2000)

In the early ’00s, Memento was one of the most talked-about films among cinephiles. The film that launched Christopher Nolan into becoming a household name was perfectly constructed to be one that people had to watch over and over again, distinguished by its unreliable narrator and unique, backward-moving structure. Guy Pearce is enthralling as Leonard, a man with anterograde amnesia which leaves him unable to form new memories. As he investigates his wife’s murder, he is forced to leave himself notes and clues in order to remember what he’s doing and where he is in the investigation. Nolan based the film off of a pitch from his brother Jonathan, who wrote the short story “Memento Mori” off of it. It’s Nolan’s ability to navigate the various plot twists in a coherent fashion that allows this to shine while his strong visual aesthetic comes into play in the use of color vs. black and white sequences. Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano provide great supporting work and the final revelations give that gloomy ending that is a staple of the neo-noir thriller.

#5: American Psycho (2000)

Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho is a brilliant book, but one that is high-unreadable for many and still difficult for just about everyone else. The story of Wall Street businessmen Patrick Bateman, who is obsessed with the superficial and has horrific violence as the only way to satisfy his mental instability, is a disturbing look into the mind of a serial killer as well as a harsh look at the materialism and greed of the 1980s. The prevailing wisdom for years in Hollywood was that the novel should be adapted to film, but that it was essentially unfilmable. Mary Harron set out to prove the sentiment wrong and accomplished her task so with flying colors. With Christian Bale making an indelible impression on mainstream audiences in his breakout role as Bateman, Harron made a film that was alternately loved for its masterpiece quality and yet hated for its exceedingly violent and misogynistic content. I’d argue that the movie really isn’t misogynistic in nature though; it simply uses hatred of women in Bateman as one of many examples that show how much of a monster he is. This film is full of twisted and funny moments such as the Huey Lewis and Whitney Houston monologues, the ATM that reads “feed me a cat” and more. A direct-to-DVD sequel followed that was terrible, but this one stands the test of time as a great, great psychological thriller.

#4: Zodiac (2007)

This David Fincher film is one that I debated back and forth about, because in some aspects it’s less of a thriller than a drama. The film doesn’t overload on scares, but I think it’s hard not to define it as a thriller when you consider how adeptly the director builds tension out of the story. Based on the book by Robert Graysmith, Zodiac chronicles the hunt for the infamous Zodiac Killer in San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s, a man who was never caught. Fincher takes an economical, almost minimalist approach to the tale and makes great use of Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey, Jr. as the men investigating the case via different avenues. Much like From Hell, the film posits a theory for the killings that was never proven true and based on the evidence it is unlikely, but the point here isn’t to solve the killings but to present the framework for a great story. Some didn’t like Zodiac as much as perhaps it deserved due to the scares being a bit overmarketed, but viewed without that prejudice it’s a highly-engrossing film about the hunt for a madman.

#3: Mulholland Dr. (2001)

David Lynch is a director you either love or you hate; there really isn’t much middle ground in there. Either way, one thing you can’t deny is that he makes films that tend to haunt you for quite a while after you’ve seen them because of their surreal, creepy natures. Mulholland Dr. is not one of his most accessible films, hanging behind the likes of Dune and Blue Velvet, but it’s still a stellar piece of movie-making anchored by sterling work on the part of Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring. Lynch originally conceived of the piece as a TV pilot but when that fell through, he decided to take his lambasting of the film industry straight to the big screen. Throughout the film we follow Harring’s amnesiac “Rita” and her new friend Betty as they try to uncover what happened to cause the former to lose her memory. The trip takes them into the dark heart of Hollywood as things get increasingly disconnected from reality. The film drips with atmosphere and the strange plot twists only serve to heighten the tension as things unfold, with some truly disturbing moments being unleashed on the audience. I get why some aren’t keen on Lynch’s work but for those that like it, this is a must-see film.

#2: Hard Candy (2005)

Hard Candy is a film that will absolutely leave an impression on you, one way or another. Fantastic performances by Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson highlight this tale of a young girl who lures in a sexual predator in Wilson’s Jeff and then proceeds to turn the tables on him. Page’s performance is a revelation even to people who were already a fan of her work; she plays the role of fourteen year-old Hayley with a maturity and sinister edge that really has you questioning the who the protagonist and antagonist may be. That’s also a credit to Wilson’s performance as the possible predator-turned prey; the dynamic between them is fascinating to watch. Brian Nelson’s script is straight-forward but not simple, and David Slade makes his directorial debut one to remember as the tension stays high. The story doesn’t let you have any easy answers here; just watching the two talented actors go at each other is enough for a recommendation, but the entire package is more than that which makes it a must-see for those who can stomach the controversial topic at hand.

#1: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

The #1 film this week goes to the adaptation of a famed Swedish thriller series that launched Noomi Rapace into super-stardom. While I love the David Fincher version too, this isn’t that film (which was made in 2011). Rather, we’re looking at Niels Arden Oplev’s exquisitely tense, enrapturing adaptation of the Stieg Larsson novel. Rapace knocks it out of the park in her role as Lisbeth Salander, the brilliant but damaged hacker who ends up teaming with disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist to investigate the disappearance of a woman thirty-five years prior. The film gets deep inside the heads of not only Lisbeth and Mikael, but also those of the wealthy Vanger family whom the two are looking into. It’s all wonderfully-done as Oplev lets it unfold at a deliberate pace that; he relies on the talents of his cast to keep the film from ever feeling like a drag. Like any good thriller there are a lot of twists and turns, and they hold up on successive viewings. This is a bleak and harrowing but beautiful piece of film-making that really takes you into the minds of the characters and gets under your skin. It’s one I enjoy watching over and over.

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at! JT out.