A ‘GOOD’ psychological thriller succeeds when you never see whats coming, but a ‘GREAT’ psychological thriller achieves its master feat is when you are left jaw-dropped and baffled even after you saw what was coming but you were hit by it when you least expected it. Usually thriller movies like Shutter Island have a really tight script and there is no creative freedom or much room for improvs or re-writes especially when its based on a solid source material – as most of the psy-thrillers are. So the filmmaker and the crew are slaves to a pre-ordained script, oops, the great Monsieur Truffaut would not have liked the sound of that as he believed in the naturalism of movies, that’s where real life comes from and letting things flow. But then again there is Martin Scorsese way of doing it, and that is visualizing a script in the best possible manner by doing full justice to it. He is a true master of creating tension and showcasing the character dynamic, he added a new dimension to psychological thrillers with his innovative yet inspired ideas and he kept coming back in each decade with his freshness.
Since, the turn of the Century thrillers were taken to a whole new level with the entry of the likes of Takashi Miike,the Alfonso Cuaron ,Park Chan Wook, proving how the visual, the color scheme and the photography can add so much to the anticipation and tension. After all those decades Scorsese stayed young, atleast his mind did, his ideas did. He gave the world, one of the most popular psychological thrillers of modern times – The Shutter Island, which is a brilliant adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name. With a unique and intimidating narrative style, a grey-ish photography and most importantly stunning performances, an absolutely deceptive screenplay with an insane plot twist, Shutter Island had the audiences gutted as those credits were rolling in the end. Now, here in this article we take a look at seven essential psychological thrillers, since the turn of the Century, which are essentially movies like Shutter Island, with an unanticipated plot twist or if you did anticipate it, it hit you hard when it did !
7. The Others – 2001
From the creative mind of Alejandro Amenábar, who specializes in “Mindfuck” movies like Shutter Island, he was among those Latino directors who burst into the scene during the early 2000s along with Del Toro, Alfonso, Inarritu and the likes each of whom had their own unique ideas and style. Anyway The Others is one of the most popular horror/thrillers around, it set many standards, or should i say broke many as it threw convention out of the window and brought a new dimension to the scare called perception, perception is a very important element of creating horror and i’m not just talking from a technical point of view, you really will have to watch others to know what I’m talking about. The twist is unbelievably insane as you will never see it coming since you are busy anticipating the “Ghost”, but is it the Ghost that you should really be scared of ?
6. Los Cronocrímenes [Timecrimes] – 2007
Okay, this does not exactly qualify as one among the Psychological thriller movies like Shutter Island and though it is mostly popular as a Time Travel/sci fi flick, it is also a thorough examination on the human psychology, also featuring an insane plot twist, and hence I couldn’t resist including this pitch perfect delivery on this list. How the mindsets change, and how a small curiosity and a resulting action could set a chain reaction and then just watch the dominoes fall, it just draws out the complexity of human behavior of never quite settling for or accepting the events as they are, always wanting to get the better of it and by going to ANY extremes to achieve it. Whats even more impressive is the technique used here, director Nacho Vigalondo gives us that familiar breath of classic film making from the 70’s all the way from the narrative to the sound recording to the photography and also features some brilliant and hilarious performances from its actors. You will see it coming in this one, but you wont !
5. The Machinist – 2004
When Christian Bale famously announced himself as a magnificent and dedicated character actor, we got in our hands a flawless thriller with sweeping human drama and a very dark atmosphere and the factor that qualifies it into this list of movies like Shutter Island, a totally unexpected insane plot twist. Director, Brad Anderson uses modern techniques and a very fresh yet familiar narrative style sinks us into the disturbed mind of the Central character played by Bale. We see the world through him, and his mind is paranoid and add to it his insomnia, and thats enough for the audience to handle already. Unlike other thrillers, the script doesn’t elevate the characters, but the absorbing and intimidating career best performance by Bale totally elevates the movie and THAT is the scare element which works here. We are left to empathize him, after all thats happened.
4. Oldboy – 2003
The definitive mind bender if you’d ask me, served on a plate from a true master who can even make a lettuce leaf look intimidating ! Thats right, Park Chan-Wook’s groundbreaking Oldboy easily makes any thriller movie lists and any such list would be incomplete without it, especially our list of movies like Shutter Island. A movie you cant watch again and again, but cant resist from doing so. Oldboy is simply everything, its about love, its about revenge, its about insanity and the balance of the human consciousness or the lack of it. Technically, it is just awe-inspiring with some insane action sequences, brilliant long cuts that does not let you take your eye off the screen and a neat script which is also a faithful adaptation of the graphic novel of the same. Also gave us one of the greatest villains appeared on Cinema, who just reveled on insanity. The performances from the likes of Choi Min-Sik and Yoo-Ji tae are Golden and it just simply ticks with the rhythm of the story, an insane twist which will deprive you off your sleep fo days to come. Psst, there is also a reason why I chose that particular thumbnail pic above, when that scene hits you you’d be devastated, is that a smile of insanity, has he lost it ? or is that a happy ending smile, has he all figured it out ?
3. Donnie Darko – 2001
When we search for moves like Shutter Island, there are some movies you just cant contain inside a genre box, and Richard Kelly’s cult classic which is celebrated even today is particularly THAT. Its a sci-fi thriller which explores philosophical ideas with no over the top visuals, told mostly in a subtle yet bizarre atmosphere, executed in a shoe-string budget. This is one of the greatest achievement of Independent Cinema, and really demonstrated the power of effective film-making. You are exploring Donnie Darko’s casual life, the usual chit chats with his friends while a “parallel” plot goes on about these images that Donnie Darko perceives, things that drive him to do strange things, are they the hallucinations of a damaged teenager? or are they for real ? Now, the second question is the more relevant one, both in terms of the plot and the philosophical idea behind it. It shows us in subtle and hidden symbolism the idea of the famous Sartre philosophical ideology of what we feel, perceive and go through is real or not and how the scientific side of it is pitched into the whole idea is fascinating, wormholes, and so much more. All of this presented through Donnie Darko’s usual uneventful day to day life and it just feels so natural, it truly scores on every high note, do get a hold on the director’s cut if you can,
2. Mullholand Dr. – 2001
As we near the top of the list of movies like Shutter Island, things keep getting all the more exciting. David Lynch, the father of exhilarating perplexity stops at absolutely nothing. He has no rules, he knows what he wants and he gets it done, Mullholand Dr. is one of the most renowned films of Lynch in his illustrious career both on the big and small screen. A true great of any generation, Mullholand Drive sees Lynch in fantastic form as he uses his trademark narrative style to get into our minds and never out of it again. It starts off as closer look at the life inside Hollywood and then drifts into various pathways of love, betrayal, murder, investigation (oh yeah Twin Peaks style) firing from all cylinders and keeping the audience tied down. Idiosyncrasy is the middle name of David Lynch and it can be seen evidently in this masterpiece.The final act, if there is one, totally leaves you puzzled and stone cold, he uses his intimidating camera movements, match cuts and blending transition techniques to tell the ultimate mind boggling story and does it to perfection. The performance from its lead actors is unnerving as Lynch brings the best out of them. Do give it a whirl, as it is simply a unique and insane experience and once again an observation of the ever so changing human psyche and after you watch it it will leave you…. “Silenzio…” !!
1. Predestination – 2014
And here is our topper on the list of movies like Shutter Island. On hearing the plot, and going through all the posters you’d think that this is just a revisiting of minority report or a redoing of Looper, but it aint. Its anything but that, the Spierig Brothers announces themselves as the next best thing with this towering achievement that deserves to be celebrated more than how it was treated last year when it came out. There has never been a thriller like this one, ever since the turn of the decade or should I say Century !, and THAT is why it tops our list of movies like Shutter Island. It has formidable character development, a haunting script and a carefully constructed narrative structure which fills out its complexity, as it does handle a very complex script, one that explores the bootstrap paradox of Time travel. Yes we have seen it before, but never like this one. It is an unmarred adaptation of the luminary Robert A. Heinlein’s short story “All you Zombies”. The Spierig Brothers keeps it real simple here with the presentation, the cuts and the lighting techniques are really traditional yet innovative and it is so organic to watch. They keep the use of CGI in this sci-fi flick to a minimum, or should i say none ! Gives a great relief to watch that mantle of true film-making being still held up by these modern filmmakers. Coming to the key conundrum, the plot twist is one you’d least expect, and even if you did expect it the one at the third act leaves you baffled as it hits you like a storm and such a complex, VERY hard to handle script is so brilliantly poised together like a ludwig van beethoven Symphony. It clearly tops the list for being true to its source material, and then adding a fresh element to it to add that cinematic effect and for finally handling that script expertly, and a special mention should be given to both Sarah Snook and Ethan Hawke as it squeezed the best performance out of them, Sarah Snook gives an incredible standout performance, best actress of the year if you’d ask me for that stunning work she has done, but sadly she dint even get a nod at the Oscars and speaking of the central character he knows where he came from, but where did all you Zombies come from and I miss her dreadfully !!
To conclude, the movies included here, in our list of movies like Shutter Island donot belong to a particular genre. Instead, they are spread over various areas including time-travel, psycho, and the famed ‘mind-fuck’ as the movie-buffs like to call it. They really do stand out and carve a territory for themelves in the world of movies. There are not many movies like Shutter Island, but for those that are comparable, our list pretty much is the whole thing.