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5 Great Thrillers That You May Have Missed

Updated on March 3, 2014

Taking care of family. Competing for a job. Crazy visions. Espionage. Contract killing. These are the themes of some of my favorite thrillers from the past few years. Enjoy!

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Director Stuart Hazeldine has written the screenplays for Knowing with Nicholas Cage, Scott Derrickson's remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still, and the upcoming screen adaptation of Milton's Paradise Lost.

The Exam (2009)

Eight candidates competing for the same job are seated in a room for an exam. Each is given a piece of paper, a pencil, and very little instruction. Told that the first candidate to answer their question is the winner, they are given 80 minutes. The instructor leaves the room and each candidate turns his or her page over to find it blank. And the next two hours are pretty wild.

Exam explores the limitations, possibilities, and dangers that one room can hold. I put this film right alongside Hitchcock's Rope or Rodrigo Cort├ęs' Buried. Director Stuart Hazeldine's feature film directorial debut is minimalistic and intense, a great thriller which had me hooked from the opening credits.

Writer: Stuart Hazeldine, Simon Garrity

Starring: Luke Mably, Adar Beck, Chukwudi Iwuji, Jimi Mistry, and Nathalie Cox

Rotten Tomatoes: 63%

Metacritic: not reviewed

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Take Shelter's writer and director: Jeff Nichols is also the filmmaker behind Shotgun Stories (2007) and Mud (2012). He is currently shooting a sci-fi chase film Midnight Special, an homage to the 1980s films of John Carpenter.

Take Shelter (2011)

Curtis starts having vivid nighttime dreams and daytime visions about a storm of apocalyptic proportions. In his visions, this nightmare storm provokes people to do horrific things. Curtis is terrified and begins preparing for this coming storm. Everyone in his small town thinks he is crazy.

Michael Shannon, who is one of my favorite actors, does a powerful job of portraying Curtis. He channels the terror, frustration, and desperation of the character with great power. Shea Whigham, Shannon's Boardwalk Empire costar, stars along with Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life). Chastain has a few standout moments as Curtis' wife Samantha, but is otherwise just kind of there.

The atmosphere and feeling of Take Shelter is one of the real stars. This simple, haunting indie thriller will make you think. For example, just because people think you are crazy, that doesn't mean you are. And just because you experience things that are outside the realm of 'normal' doesn't mean you are unbalanced and need counseling and medication. Comparisons could be made to the 1996 Jon Turteltaub/ John Travolta film Phenomenon.

Director & Writer: Jeff Nichols
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Metacritic: 85%

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Director Joe Wright has called Hanna a feminist fantasy story and describes it as dreamlike and surreal. He also cites David Lynch as a major influence on his work.

Hanna (2011)

Hanna has been raised in the wilderness by her father. She can hunt, track, and fight. Plus she's multilingual and very smart. When her father presents her with a button, she declares herself ready presses it, and launches herself into the world of espionage.

With a good mix of revenge, action, intrigue, and espionage, Hanna is an international thriller which winds its way from Scandinavia to North Africa and across Europe. Young Saoirse Ronan, who plays Hanna, holds her own next to international superstars Cate Blanchett, and Eric Bana. Well written, very nicely shot (watch for the long shots as Eric Bana leaves the bus station), and very entertaining.

Director: Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, The Soloist)
Writer: Seth Lochhead and David Farr
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Metacritic: 65%

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Kill List (2011)

Jay, a combat veteran hooks up with his friend, Gal, to do a job. As contract killers, they are given a list of people who need to get gotten. The jobs start out fairly run of the mill but become more bizarre as they work their way through the list.

Ben Wheatley's Kill List is tense, funny, gruesome, and surprising. Wheatley, who also directed Down Terrace as well as the upcoming film A Field in England, is definitely one of my new favorite directors.

Director: Ben Wheatley
Writer: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley
Starring: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Michael Smiley
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Metacritic: 67%

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Only God Forgives (2013)

When expatriate criminal Billy kills a young Thai girl, his younger brother Julian is left with the mess. Set in Bangkok, Thailand, this crime story and revenge tale is a little bit brutal and a little bit surreal.

Director Nicolas Winding Refn and actor Ryan Gosling reunite for this visually dense look at the underbelly of Bangkok. Kristin Scott Thomas gives a perversely funny and sad portrayal of Billy and Julian's mother.

I can think of a good many adjectives to describe Only God Forgives - eerie, atmospheric, ambiguous, stylish, sparse - and for me, every one of those describes a positive trait of the film. The critics may not love it, but I sure do!

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Valhalla Rising)
Writer: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm
Rotten Tomatoes: 40%
Metacritic: 37%

Your faves?

Got any favorite thrillers? Let me know!

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    • Thief12 profile image

      Thief12 3 years ago from Puerto Rico

      I've seen Kill List, Hanna, and Take Shelter. All are pretty good to varying degrees. I've heard of Only God Forgives, but haven't seen it. I hadn't heard of Exam, but it looks interesting.