One of cinema’s greatest tricks is creating suspense. Whether introducing a threat and allowing it to simmer all movie or moving characters from one life-threatening moment to the next, the tension that filmmakers can create is something to be marveled at.
Someone recently asked for suggestions for “films with high tension or suspense,” movies “where the audience is given little time to catch their breath,” and as usual fellow users came out swinging with suggestions for some of the most painfully and impressively tense films ever made.
1. High Tension
The original poster gave three examples of the kinds of films they were looking for, and unsurprisingly included the movie that could be said to be the titular film for their post: High Tension. The French film follows a woman staying at a friend’s house in the country as she’s forced to chase down a man who killed her friend’s family and kidnapped her friend. It’s a movie that’s both extremely violent and allows time for, that’s right, high tension to build between bursts of violence, delivering a movie that lives up to its name.
2. Blue Ruin
The original poster also noted Green Room from director Jeremy Saulnier as an example of what they were looking for. While I was tempted to double dip on example films because I adore Green Room, several respondents called out Saulnier’s previous film Blue Ruin as an incredibly tense movie. The film begins with a shocking act of violence as the protagonist takes revenge on the man who killed his parents, but then largely basks in tension as he prepares for a violent response from that man’s family.
3. Uncut Gems
Several respondents recommended the two most recent films by the Safdie brothers: Good Time and Uncut Gems. And while Good Time stars my beloved Robert Pattinson, I feel like the edge goes to Uncut Gems which follows a gambling addict played by Adam Sandler as he attempts to scramble together money that he owes. One commenter said that the movie “just about sent me to the hospital.”
4. Nocturnal Animals
I was delighted to see Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals get not just one, but two mentions from respondents. The film parallels two stories, one of a woman reading a book written by her ex-husband that sparks memories about their relationship and another that tells the story of the novel her ex wrote. That the film manages to make the pulpy novel story about revenge tense makes sense, but what’s amazing is how that tension bleeds into the story of the couple’s real life.
Whiplash, which centers on the relationship between a determined jazz drummer and an abusive teacher, received a couple mentions. One user noted that Whiplash was a somewhat “Unconventional answer but definitely accurate. Not many movies had me sweating like Whiplash.”
Many respondents suggested Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners which tells the story of a desperate father who kidnaps and tortures the young mentally disabled man he believes has kidnapped his children. One commenter even went so far as to say “Prisoners is what I would call a perfect film.”
7. The Descent
A modern horror classic, I was surprised that The Descent was only recommended by one user (albeit that suggestion received a lot of upvote support). The film works in two distinct halves, each of which are brutally tense. The first focuses on friends getting lost and stuck in an unexplored cave system, while the second introduces vicious humanoid monsters to add to the horror.
8. Brawl in Cell Block 99
One user recommended the Vince Vaughn-starring Brawl in Cell Block 99 which sees the actor shift from his usual comic roles into something far more serious, and threatening. The story follows Vaughn’s character as he purposefully gets himself sent to prison so that he can kill a prisoner and free his wife who’s been kidnapped to motivate him.
Two users suggested Nightcrawler and as a lover of the movie I couldn’t agree more. The story of Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) who is willing to do whatever it takes to get great crime footage he can sell to local news networks, up to instigating violence, is one of the most suspenseful character study films ever made.
While the suggestions largely focused on films from the 21st century, some respondents highlighted the one and only Alien as “one of the best high tension horror movies ever made.” You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’s seen the film that disagrees, as the movie's story of a spaceship crew who unknowingly picks up, you guessed it, an alien that then slowly but surely eliminates crew members is unbelievably tense and a masterpiece of the horror genre.
This thread inspired this post. This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks