In the endless canvas of art, movies always catch the complex nuances of human nature, offering a mirror where we grab the reflections of our vulnerability and strength, joy and sorrow, fear and courage.
Homo sapiens have always stood out among all other animals for their unique ability to create and play stories, leading over the centuries our abstraction skills to the birth of cinema, the sum art to master them all, a medium that comprehensively combines narrative and technology.
We could say that cinema is just one of many steps in the evolution of our language, flourishing more than ever in today’s digital age, where we constantly navigate the endless global interaction of the Internet.
As with technology, the evolution of cinema over the years reflects the changing social and cultural conditions, exploring in the endless rainbow of its genres ever more profound and more complex themes, while at the same time, of course, productions large and small are harnessing the mass power of social media and online distribution to reach an ever wider audience.
Given all of the above, cinema offers a unique audience to analyze and fantasize about free will, morality, conscience, personal identity, and the reason for human nature, which we will explore today in a series of thriller films.
Each one addresses the most fundamental aspects of the human psyche to better understand ourselves and the world around us… and, of course, to entertain with that fictional and harmless tension that only at the movies can we experience without risk. So keep your fingernails firmly in the arms of the couch, and let the show begin!
Table of contents
My Son (2021)
We begin with a movie that not only explores the human nature of parents fearful for their children but also fully displays the excellent acting talent of James McAvoy.
The actor plays Edmond, a desperate father who must return to the small mountain village in Scotland where his ex-wife lives when he receives notice their son has disappeared.
Although the place may seem like a peaceful paradise, it hides underneath a tense atmosphere pregnant with uncertainty about the poor child’s fate.
Edmond, a normally quiet and reflective man, faces, on the one hand, his ex-girlfriend’s antagonism over his continued estrangement from home, working all over the world;. At the same time, the police seem strangely slow to find any good leads on the disappearance.
Unable to sit on the sidelines and wait, Edmond decides to personally investigate, initially suspecting his wife’s new partner but then uncovering a plot that even the Scottish government wants to cover up at all costs.
I had already appreciated Christian Carion for the gentle Joyeux Noël, a bizarre and moving Christmas war movie that will surely end up in my year-end recommendations sooner or later.
Here the French director builds an excellent thriller premise, with a constant tension that fades a bit too much into improbable action toward the ending, though.
However, this in no way detracts from McAvoy‘s outstanding performance, which is even more impressive when we consider the actor was given no screenplay and acted improvising from situation to situation.
Equally good is the rest of the cast in adapting to his lines, on which of all is the sweet anxious mom Claire Foy, by his side in this experimental cinema that, however, is never boring and stays pleasantly in the tracks of an entertaining experience.
Most Dangerous Game (2020)
Next comes another movie that, although significantly different from the previous one, raises the same ethical and moral questions about how the human mind reacts under extreme conditions.
What would we do if we had little left to live and did not know how to ensure a future for our family?
The story’s protagonist is Dodge Maynard, a Detroit big guy with a terminal illness who is worried about leaving enough money to his sweet wife, who is expecting their first child.
As good old Vito Corleone would say, Dodge receives an offer he can’t refuse from a mysterious billionaire, Miles Sellars.
The man offers him a single day’s work, with pay increasing exponentially by the hour until it reaches $24 million.
All he has to do is survive, participating in a deadly game where some hitmen compete against each other to take him out first.
The only rule is that he never crosses the city boundaries, otherwise, the 24-hour limit will be nullified, and the assassins will try to kill him forever.
Okay, in some cases here, we inevitably descend into the typical purely American-style action badass: but let’s also be honest about how this is entertainment built on a foundation that works.
Liam Hemsworth is an engaging protagonist, a credible runner in the getaway despite having no special fighting skills to stand up to assassins ironically named like some of America’s most famous presidents.
Even better is the hilarious Christoph Waltz as the evil mastermind behind the curtain, not hesitating to throw sweet (but not helpless) wife Sarah Gadon into the mix when the game doesn’t go according to plan.
So let’s unpretentiously enjoy this adaptation of an Amazon series, re-edited by squeezing the first season into a movie just over two hours long.
A Vigilante (2018)
The protagonist of the following story is the mysterious Sadie, a silent and enigmatic woman living a quiet existence haunted by her past.
We don’t really know what drives her (at least not at first), yet we quickly understand her solitary mission’s purpose: to protect those who cannot defend themselves.
Whatever has happened, Sadie becomes a vigilante of sorts, a ghostly figure to whom the helpless who are lucky enough to know her can turn to right the wrongs they endured in their lives.
With her keen intelligence and fierce tenacity, she usually helps domestic abuse victims, teaching her bare-knuckle justice among sordid suburban neighborhoods and seemingly peaceful homes, then living out the rest of her days training restlessly for her future quests.
The past, however, continues to haunt her and leads her to wonder how far she would go if she could take revenge on the person who turned her into a vigilante many years before.
Of course, many expected A Vigilante to be a female version of Taken, just with Olivia Wilde replacing Liam Neeson as the lone family avenger.
Equally obviously, many were disappointed to discover there is almost no action scene in this movie, just a stark and realistic analysis of the human nature of grief and the traumas that divert some lives down a dead-end track.
Indeed, director Sarah Daggar-Nickson focuses the camera on the suffering eyes of her wonderful protagonist rather than playing it easy in the playground of one-on-one fights and chases.
In the ending, however, she shows that she can handle action as well, even if revenge does not bring that peace and positive catharsis usually associated with stories of this kind.
A movie that, unfortunately, was too little talked about, although there is always time to avenge this injustice.
Jumping from one female drama to another, the girl in this story struggles even worse than the previous one.
Indeed the protagonist is Sawyer Valentini, a young victim moving to a new city to escape a stalker who won’t give her peace.
Obviously, the episode has deeply scarred her life, planting in her body continuous anxiety and perpetual distrust toward others, incapable of any intimate relationship with a man.
So she visits a counselor to deal with her trauma, finding herself unexpectedly and involuntarily institutionalized in a psychiatric facility.
Thus begins Sawyer’s struggle to preserve her mental sanity, unjustly locked up in the nut house, as day by day, the line between reality and paranoia increasingly blurs.
When she begins to think it cannot get any worse, Sawyer discovers an old friend among the hospital staff: the exact man harassing her from the beginning.
At that point, her only agenda becomes to escape from the institution before her new doctor abuses his position to drive her permanently mad.
In this age where prison abuse and stalker victims are rising, this disturbing movie by Steven Soderbergh shows the true nature of these so-called shelters for healing the human mind.
Young Claire Foy (again) is the ideal heroine for such a claustrophobic plot: fragile and helpless, forced to stay in a dreadful place where no one listens to her, and she is just a gear to enrich the private health care system.
Of course, no one wants to believe her, except paradoxically her main persecutor, played by a glacial and terribly sober Joshua Leonard.
Soderbergh once again rewrites the general rules of the psychological thriller amid the general public’s indifference, who sadly do not even know this movie exists.
Murder in the Dark (2013)
We conclude this descent into the depths of human nature with today’s wackiest and strangest movie, where a group of young adventurers decides to explore the panoramic, but unfortunately for them, also tragically isolated, Turkish countryside.
A land with a glorious past and rich in natural beauty, such as the ancient ruins of a castle where this young group of vacationing doctors decide to spend the evening.
Before the crackling fire, the friends play an old game: Murder in the Dark, a role-playing game where they each take turns being a victim while the others have to figure out who the murderer is.
The next day, the merriment fades when one of the girls disappears into thin air, followed later by one of the boys who had gone looking for her.
Initially trying to keep their heads on their shoulders, they soon realize that the order of these disappearances is the same sequence of victims from the game they played the night before.
When they discover their friends’ bodies, the harmony vanishes in a spiral of fear and suspicion, where each accuses the others based only on their grudges and prejudices instead of hard evidence.
Of course, the seemingly cohesive group of friends in the style of The Blair Witch Project could not be missed, from which we also find the contrivance of the found footage film that opens the way to tragedy.
In short, a simple adventure with a linear unfolding, sadly drowned out by the endless number of perspective clone thrillers that infest our movie theaters without giving even a thrill to us viewers.