70 Best Anxiety-Inducing Movies

70 Best Anxiety-Inducing Movies

May 4, 2024

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It seems counterintuitive, but there’s something cathartic about watching movies that keep you on the edge of your seat. Anxiety builds up as you follow characters do one infuriating thing after another—and when the credits finally roll, you find yourself gasping in relief like a tight valve of pressure inside you was released. 

To that end, we’ve compiled the best anxiety-inducing movies you can watch right now. Whether you’re looking for a challenging slow burn like Mass, an intense drama like Whiplash, an intricate heist like Bad Genius, or an erotic thriller like Thirst, get ready to see the whites on your knuckles as you go through our list of films below.

61. Wojnarowicz (2021)

best

8.3

Country

United States of America

Director

Chris McKim

Actors

David Wojnarowicz, Fran Lebowitz, Nan Goldin

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Gripping, Inspiring

Even a straightforward documentary on the New York East Village visual artist David Wonjarowicz (pronounced VOY-nuh-ROH-vitch) would be thrilling, given the energy and the irreverence of his artworks especially during the AIDS epidemic from the 1980s to the 1990s. But director Chris McKim goes above and beyond, essentially imagining how Wojnarowicz would have directed his own film. McKim treats the movie like a collage in itself, expertly blending footage and sound together not just to capture the artist’s fury, but to remember how deeply he loved, transcending space and sickness. As an account of the underground New York art scene at the time, a profile on a supposed enfant terrible, and a tribute to all those who lost their lives to a disease accelerated by discrimination, Wojnarowicz is a beautiful, complex tapestry.

62. Godland (2022)

best

8.3

Country

Denmark, France, Iceland

Director

Hlynur Palmason

Actors

Elliott Crosset Hove, Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir, Ingvar E. Sigurðsson, Jacob Ulrik Lohmann

Moods

Challenging, Dark, Intense

On the one hand, Godland is a film about nature’s unforgiving beauty. Like the photographs the priest Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove) takes, these quietly superb scenes speak for themselves. The Earth moves in mysterious and harsh ways, and we are but mere specks, organic matter to be folded in and absorbed, in the grand scheme of things. It would’ve worked with just this message alone, but Godland also treads on political ground. Through Lucas, who is Danish, and his travel guide Ragnar (Ingvar Sigurdsson), who is Icelandic, we sense a palpable tension that electrifies the film with a colonial strain. There are layers to their deep aversion (and dependence) on one another, and director Hlynur Pálmason does well to pair this with imagery that is just complex, profound, and packed with meaning.

63. The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006)

best

8.3

Country

Belgium, France, Germany

Director

Ken Loach

Actors

Aidan O'Hare, Alan Ready, Alex Dee, Anthony Mark Streeter

Moods

A-list actors, Dramatic, Emotional

You might expect a movie about the Irish struggle for independence from the British Empire during the 1920s to be a sweeping historical epic a la Braveheart, but The Wind That Shakes The Barley is instead a heartbreaking miniature portrait of the human impact that the brutal occupation has on the residents of a small County Cork village. Cillian Murphy is superb as Damien O’Donovan, a young medical student who is about to up sticks for London when he witnesses first-hand the savagery of British forces on his neighbors. Galvanized into action, he joins the local branch of the IRA, which is led by his brother Teddy (Pádraic Delaney).

What makes The Wind That Shakes The Barley so potent isn’t just its depiction of the fierce local rebellion that Damien and his comrades wage against the British forces — it’s also its gutting exploration of the cyclical war that began to rage amongst the freedom fighters once the British left. As Damien puts it, “It’s easy to know what you’re against, quite another to know what you’re for” — a dilemma that wedges the two brothers apart to bitter ends.

64. Rosetta (1999)

best

8.3

Country

Belgium, France

Director

Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Actors

Anne Yernaux, Bernard Marbaix, Émilie Dequenne, Fabrizio Rongione

Moods

Character-driven, Dark, Emotional

Rosetta begins fiercely, with a shaky handheld camera chasing the eponymous teenager (Émilie Dequenne) as she storms across a factory floor and bursts into a room to confront the person she believes has just lost her her job. The film seldom relents from this tone of desperate fury, as we watch Rosetta — whose mother is a barely functioning alcoholic — fight to find the job that she needs to keep the two alive.

As tough as their situation is, though, Rosetta’s fierce sense of dignity refuses to allow her to accept any charity. A stranger to kindness and vulnerability, her abject desperation leads her to mistake these qualities for opportunities to exploit, leading her to make a gutting decision. But for all her apparent unlikeability, the movie (an early film from empathy endurance testers the Dardenne brothers) slots in slivers of startling vulnerability amongst the grimness so that we never lose sight of Rosetta’s ultimate blamelessness. Its profound emotional effect is corroborated by two things: that it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and that it helped usher in a law protecting the rights of teenage employees in its setting of Belgium.

65. The Conjuring 2 (2016)

best

8.3

Country

United States of America

Director

James Wan

Actors

Abhi Sinha, Annie Young, Benjamin Haigh, Bob Adrian

Moods

Dark, Gripping, Intense

After the successful run of the first instalment, The Conjuring 2 brings back lead couple Ed and Lorraine Warren for yet another real life-based case of demonic possession. This time, it’s the Enfield poltergeist, a case which gained popularity in the London Borough of Enfield between 1977 and 1979, and while the Warrens in the film show reluctance to take on a new job amongst growing skepticism, we’re so glad they did so in the end. The franchise’s second chapter is perfectly built: a good amount of character establishment, a fair bit of rekindling allegiance with the Warrens, and a lot of ingenious scaries. What makes The Conjuring 2 a pitch-perfect horror of its kind is precisely this multivalence, combining empathetic characters and well-crafted, yet extremely disturbing visuals. When the supposedly simple case becomes a fight between good and proper evil, the film shifts gear to an obscenely dark, vengeful mode. You can’t tell from its beginning, but the second Conjuring is even more proficient, deeply troubling, and most of all, bold in the way it renders the possession horror genre a canonical must.

66. Murina (2022)

best

8.3

Country

Brazil, Croatia, Slovenia

Director

Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović, Female director

Actors

Cliff Curtis, Danica Curcic, Goran Grgić, Gracija Filipović

Moods

Character-driven, Gripping, Intense

A young woman’s coming-of-age threatens to topple the uneasy hierarchy of her family in this striking debut from Croatian director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović. The trigger for Julija’s (Gracija Filipović) angsty rebellion is the arrival of her parents’ enigmatic wealthy friend, Javi (Cliff Curtis), whom her controlling father Ante (Leon Lučev) is hoping to squeeze a juicy investment out of. Part of hot-headed Ante’s strategy involves playing on Javi’s still-simmering feelings for Ante’s wife Nela (Danica Čurčić) — a dicey game to play when you have a temper like his. It’s also a very manipulative one, and the film lives in the atmosphere of claustrophobia that comes with being a woman in Ante’s life. Though her mother seems resigned to acceptance, Julija yearns for liberation, and it’s her burgeoning awareness of her own power as a woman that fires this drive for freedom. With its stunning Adriatic setting and haunting underwater sequences — the family are keen spearfishers — Murina is a film of natural beauty and human ugliness, a slow burn of a psychological drama that uses volatile teenage emotions as its incendiary fuel.

67. Priscilla (2023)

best

8.3

Country

Italy, United States of America

Director

Female director, Sofia Coppola

Actors

Alanis Peart, Ari Cohen, Cailee Spaeny, Conni Miu

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Discussion-sparking

There are a striking number of similarities between Priscilla and director Sofia Coppola’s earlier offering, Marie Antoinette: both revolve around 14-year-old girls hand-picked to be partners to more powerful men in long-unconsummated relationships, and both girls are emotionally cut adrift and forced to live in gilded cages. But where Coppola’s Barbie-pink historical biopic is punkily anachronistic and riotous, Priscilla is a far more muted affair. There are no wild parties at Graceland as there were at Versailles; instead, Priscilla’s emotional isolation, thousands of miles away from her family, is made disconcertingly clear in shots of the infatuated teenager (played by Cailee Spaeny) anxiously ruminating alone in endless lavish rooms while the decade-older King (Jacob Elordi) plays away. Elvis’ emotional manipulation of Priscilla is conveyed subtly but inescapably — and the full sickening, insidious effect comes to the fore thanks to Spaeny’s astonishing performance. Based on Priscilla Presley’s own memoir, this is a bubble-bursting biopic, and it’s so compelling and painfully immersive that we never feel, even for a moment, like we’re watching the B side — instead, Spaeny and Coppola convincingly assert that this was the real story all along.

68. Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)

best

8.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Martin Scorsese

Actors

Adam Washington, Addie Roanhorse, Alexandria Toineeta, Alexis Ann

Moods

A-list actors, Action-packed, Challenging

Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon isn’t a whodunnit; in fact, it’s closer to a who-didn’t-do-it. We know from the very beginning who is responsible for committing the brutal serial murders of wealthy Osage Native Americans in 1920s Oklahoma that the film chronicles: pretty much every single one of their white neighbors, spearheaded by William Hale (a skin-crawling Robert De Niro). Scorsese, most often associated with mafia stories, stealthily suggests here that the most dangerous gang of all is the one into which all these perpetrators have been born. That’s an idea he investigates through the confused loyalties of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Ernest Burkhart, the Judas-like husband of Mollie (movie-stealer Lily Gladstone), an Osage woman who owns lucrative oil headrights that William wants to fatten his own pockets with. This searing epic — based on a harrowing chapter of real American history — is an unsparing and self-implicating look at complicity and greed in the eye, a monumental movie that cements its maker as one of the greatest to ever do it.

69. Leave the World Behind (2023)

best

8.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Sam Esmail

Actors

Alexis Rae Forlenza, Charlie Evans, Erica Cho, Ethan Hawke

Moods

A-list actors, Challenging, Character-driven

The key to what makes this apocalyptic thriller from Mr Robot and Homecoming showrunner Sam Esmail so unnerving is how resolute it is about not taking place in an alternate timeline. Making references to memorable events in recent history and namechecking real brands and cultural touchstones (like Tesla and Friends), Leave the World Behind is uncannily familiar — which, when combined with the film’s meticulous crafting of tension, makes it all the more unsettling.

Though taking place amidst an ambiguous national emergency, the film is largely set in one house — a claustrophobic setting that puts the characters’ self-conceits and prejudices under a microscope and forces them to confront their own impotence in an analog world. If it all sounds a bit “we live in a society,” be assured that Leave the World Behind cleverly manages to avoid the pitfalls of seeming like a bad Black Mirror ripoff by sidestepping expectations and deploying all the atmospheric tools in its arsenal. Withholding key plot and character information to increase our own paranoia means the movie always runs the risk of disappointment when explanations are finally given, but its focus on the human drama and its well-set-up ending ultimately eclipse any niggling frustrations.

70. Society of the Snow (2023)

best

8.2

Country

Spain, United States of America

Director

J.A. Bayona

Actors

Agustín Berruti, Agustín Della Corte, Agustín Lain, Agustín Pardella

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Dark

Real life tragedies, especially one that’s as sensationalized as the Miracle in the Andes, can be tough to depict on screen. On one hand, the film has to keep true to the story but also maintain some form of spectacle to keep people watching. Past depictions of the 1972 crash are preoccupied with the cannibalism portrayed by big name actors, but Society of the Snow takes a different route. The actors are newcomers, the threats to their lives don’t require daring action stunts, and the cannibalism is limited to small chunks indistinguishable from animal meat. Instead, the spectacle of Society of the Snow is the human spirit– the vulnerability, the respect, and the generosity they’ve given each other in order to survive. It’s still an uncomfortable watch, especially since we get to know some of the survivors before the crash, but it’s definitely a transcendent addition to the genre dedicated to the miracle of existence.

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