Horror movies are often synonymous with jump scares, gore, and supernatural beings. However, there are films that can induce an uncomfortable, unsettling feeling without relying on traditional horror tropes. These movies create a sense of unease and tension that slowly builds through the film. Here are 20 movies that aren't necessarily scary but are guaranteed to make you feel uneasy.
1 – Uncut Gems (2019)
A high-strung New York jeweler risks everything to obtain a rare black opal and pay off his mounting debts as his personal and professional lives unravel. While not a horror film, Uncut Gems is an intense, frenetic thriller that keeps the audience on edge with its rapid-fire dialogue, unpredictable plot twists, and unrelenting sense of danger.
2 – We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
A mother grapples with guilt and uncertainty following a violent school massacre committed by her son, whom she struggled to connect with since his birth. This psychological drama explores the unsettling and disturbing nature of maternal guilt and the complexity of the mother-son relationship, creating an atmosphere of tension and unease that is more emotionally unsettling than outright scary.
3 – Sicario (2015)
A government task force recruits an idealistic FBI agent to take down a powerful drug cartel on the US-Mexico border, but she soon finds herself caught up in a web of corruption and violence. Though not a horror film, Sicario‘s bleak portrayal of the brutal and morally ambiguous world of the drug trade creates a palpable sense of tension and dread, leaving the audience feeling uneasy and disturbed.
4 – Ex Machina (2014)
In Ex Machina, a reclusive tech billionaire invites a young programmer to administer a Turing test to a highly advanced humanoid AI but soon discovers that the AI's capabilities and intentions are far more complex and dangerous than he anticipated. This sci-fi thriller is not traditionally scary, but the unsettling premise of a self-aware AI and the tense interactions between the characters create a sense of unease and psychological tension that keeps the audience on edge.
5 – Drive (2011)
A Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver becomes embroiled in a dangerous heist and a deadly game of cat and mouse with the criminal underworld. Drive‘s depiction of the seedy criminal underworld and the protagonist's stoic, detached demeanor create a sense of foreboding and tension that permeates the film.
6 – Vivarium (2019)
This unsettling horror film is not overtly scary, but the claustrophobic setting, strange characters, and ambiguous plot create a sense of unease and discomfort that lingers throughout the film. Vivarium follows a young couple looking to buy a home. They become trapped in a suburban nightmare after being lured into a mysterious, uniform housing development with no apparent means of escape.
7 – Signs (2002)
A former minister and his family are forced to confront their deepest fears and beliefs when a series of crop circles appear on their farm, coinciding with the arrival of strange, ominous beings. While not a horror film, Signs‘ slow-building suspense and eerie, otherworldly atmosphere create an unnerving sense of tension and dread, keeping the audience on edge until the film's climactic finale. It is, in my opinion, M. Night Shyamalan's most criminally underrated film.
8 – Safe (1995)
A suburban housewife begins to suffer from mysterious physical ailments and sensory overload, which she believes are caused by her environment and the toxic, conformist culture around her. This psychological thriller is not scary in the traditional sense, but the disquieting, slow-burning sense of unease and paranoia that colors the film creates an atmosphere of psychological tension and discomfort.
9 – Parasite (2019)
Parasite‘s exploration of class and societal hierarchies creates an unsettling sense of tension and unease as the audience is forced to confront the unsettling realities of economic inequality and social injustice. A poor South Korean family schemes to infiltrate the lives of a wealthy family to secure employment and financial stability, but their plans are threatened by unforeseen consequences and escalating tensions.
10 – Infinity Pool (2023)
In Brandon Cronenberg's Infinity Pool, James and Em Foster are on a luxurious all-inclusive vacation on the tropical island of La Tolqa. However, their idyllic getaway turns dark when a tragic incident reveals the disturbing and bizarre underbelly of the resort. They soon discover that the island's tourism is built on a culture of debauchery, gratuitous violence, and otherworldly horrors.
11 – Antichrist (2009)
A grieving couple retreats to a remote cabin in the woods to confront their trauma and attempt to heal, but instead find themselves descending into madness and violence as they face their deepest fears and desires. Antichrist is not your typical jump-scare horror film, but its graphic violence and disturbing themes create a deeply unsettling and disturbing viewing experience.
12 – One Hour Photo (2002)
One Hour Photo is a psychological thriller about an unstable photo developer in a mall. When he sees evidence of one of his customers being unfaithful, he goes over the edge. Robin Williams plays the main character, and you’ll be shocked by his dark and disturbing acting.
13 – Run Lola Run (1998)
Lola only has 20 minutes to come up with a lot of money after a money delivery was botched earlier in the day. One fan online expressed the casino scene in the movie was so unexpected that this movie still leaves them shaken.
14 – Gone Baby Gone (2007)
After bedtime one night, a little girl disappears from her home, where two Boston area detectives have to investigate the disappearance, forcing private investigator, Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck), to question his morals and the world he knew.
15 – Prisoners (2002)
As family friends get together, Keller Dover's (Hugh Jackman), daughter and another little girl, go missing from the home. What follows is the epic story of a father looking for his daughter, an investigator (Jake Gyllenhaal) working on the case, and a lot of twists and turns throughout the film.
16 – Muholland Drive (2001)
After a woman gets in a car accident on Mulholland Drive, she sets off on a very strange quest with a perky Hollywood newcomer. As they try to figure out the truth, this film takes the characters and viewers on a dark, twisted ride.
17 – The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
In The Killing of a Sacred Deer, a surgeon starts mentoring a teenage boy who lost his father in surgery in the years before. As the relationship between the two, so does the sinister nature of the teenager, creating a brutal, and heartbreaking ending to the film.
18 – Shiva Baby (2020)
When a college student attends a traditional Jewish funeral service with her parents, she feels the pressure of her community, the pressure from seeing her sugar daddy with his wife, and the pressure of her ex-girlfriend's success all at once. In this comedy-drama, Danielle has to be able to face the mounting expectations set by everyone.
19 – Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Requiem for a Dream is known to be a heartbreaking, interesting story about four people who live in drug-induced worlds, but as their addictions catch up to them, their worlds start to fall apart.
20 – Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
This final Stanley Kubrick movie with Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise is about a couple who lives in New York City, but when they confide in each other about thinking about other people, it sends them on a journey that's so wild, many don't expect what happens throughout the film.