What’s the last horror movie that kept you up at night? That you found yourself thinking about days later? The best kind of thriller is often one where there’s no monster; instead, it’s an exploration of human nature that fills us with dread and makes us question if there’s any good in the world.
Here are eight best thrillers on Netflix that stumble down some dark avenues. Surprise! The monster is (usually) us.
Hush is an hourlong cuticle-ripper. The 2016 film centers on Maddie (Kate Siegel, who co-wrote the screenplay), a deaf and mute author who lives in a secluded cabin in the woods. And there’s a killer on the loose, wearing a creepy white mask. This premise might sound awfully well-tread, but Hush upends the typical home-invasion thriller by letting us see the threat (The Newsroom’s John Gallagher Jr.) unmasked, forcing the tension to build as Maddie finds different ways to thwart his murderous advances. By immersing us in Maddie’s silent world, the tension is even more palpable, and the fact that she’s a writer of fiction allows the film to expand in some inventive directions, even as her fate remains unsure.2) High-Rise
Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel didn’t see much movement in theaters, but then it’s not really a movie for everyone. Ballard’s tale of an apartment building that devolves into class warfare, floor by floor, is still pretty relevant in 2016, and Wheatley (who previously directed the impeccable Kill List) adds his trademark dread and style to the proceedings, which include decadent parties and dead dogs. Tom Hiddleston, as lightly chilled protagonist Robert Laing, attempts to break down what this literal class warfare means but gets lost in the mania, narcissism, and the need to belong. It’s a beautiful set piece, even if it lacks some of the novel’s philosophical corners.3) Jaws
In the era of unstoppable Sharknado sequels, the idea that Jaws once stoked genuine terror in middle America might seem laughable. But 40 years on, Steven Spielberg’s film about a killer shark continues to mirror our deepest collective fears, as its influence has grown from midnight movie circuit to modern TV and film. It even has it own urban legends.4) It Follows
David Robert Mitchell’s 2014 film plays on an idea that could have unending sequels: A curse is transmitted through sexual intercourse, and once you have it, the curse follows you until you pass it on to someone else. In It Follows, a young girl named Jay (Maika Monroe) discovers this terrible premise and starts to investigate what exactly “It” is. The cinematography allows for scenes to feel at once innocent and suffocating, and the minor-key soundtrack adds a layer of dread.
5) The Babadook
In Jennifer Kent’s 2014 film, the mother is supposed to be the protector, but she might be the monster, too. This tangled duality pushes The Babadook, a film that takes the idea of a bogeyman and draws a thick black line to the depths of our subconscious. Essie Davis is wonderful as Amelia, a single mother who’s slogging through life with her troubled, high-strung son. Their relationship starts to shift after a creature in a children’s pop-up book starts appearing outside the pages and becomes a terrifying metaphor for grief and depression. It joins a handful of recent horror films (The Witch, It Follows, Ex Machina) in which women aren’t just prey or victims.6) We Need to Talk About Kevin
A companion piece of sorts to The Babadook, Lynne Ramsay’s film explores another aspect of motherhood: What if you feel no bond with your child? And what if that child goes on a murderous rampage? Tilda Swinton plays Eva and Ezra Miller (who more recently starred as the Flash in Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman) is her teenage son, Kevin, who is often shot as her psychic mirror. In his review, A.O. Scott pointed out that Eva and Kevin, as they get older, look more and more like each other and less like the humans around them, “a pair of predatory reptiles incongruously housed with the fluffy, friendly animals.” When a mother’s worst nightmare comes true, disentangling from her child becomes a source of psychological terror.7) Nightcrawler
After years of Jake Gyllenhaal playing detectives and obsessive cartoonists, his turn as morally bankrupt hustler Lou Bloom is refreshing. In Dan Gilroy’s film, we see Bloom in his preferred setting: Los Angeles at night. When he discovers he can make money by filming fresh crime and accident scenes, he starts to really shine and turns it into a horror business. Nightcrawler is as much a commentary on the state of media as it is our modern need to document everything.8) The Shining
Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film is a masterclass in unease. From Jack Nicholson’s slowly unraveling performance as Jack Torrance to the ominous Overlook Hotel, which takes on a life of its own, the film is one about its parts—father, mother, son—as much as its sum. It’s an entry on psychic terror, and all the Kubrickian hallmarks are there.
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Editor's note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.