10 Psychological Thriller Movies on Hulu: The lingering effect can be haunting when a script dissolves the sense of reality and manipulates viewers with its psychological narratives. Whether a psychological drama, thriller, or horror, it operates on principal characters’ distorted perceptions and their often fractured relationships. Fear and anxiety drive psychological tension throughout the film. The thrill of horror or terror is more internalized in a psychological narrative than in anything external. The finest Indian example of one such recent film is, Bhoothakaalam (2022), starring Revathi.
The psychological construct of narrative results from a unique historical shift inward – toward the secrets of the human mind. The human evolution from superstitions to science blurred the mysterious line between reality and imagination. That acts like a brain tease and makes you question almost everything around you. Hulu has a great assorted collection of such mind-bending, genre-jumping films with psychological narratives that will undoubtedly make your brain restless. I am trying to pick ten that worked for me and are highly underseen. Let me know your thoughts.
1. Super Dark Times (2017)
Super Dark Times is a messed-up visceral, gripping, coming-of-age nightmare. It is not a perfect film (precisely the mucky third act), but the potent cinematography and superb acting make it a worthy effort. The film is set during an undefined period of the late 80s-early 90s and follows a story about teenagers Zach and Josh, who have been best friends their whole lives. But when a gruesome accident leads to a cover-up, the secret drives a wedge between them and propels them down a rabbit hole of escalating paranoia and violence.
Super Dark Times could easily be this generation’s Donny Darko and a new classic if you can brush aside a few sharp edges. It is an intense, intriguing, realistic psychological drama/ thriller. It’s also an exposition of guilt or at least a false layer of it. Super Dark Times maneuvers in a deliberately awkward and pretentious way but stays grounded and never loses the grip. Don’t miss it.
Related: Super Dark Times : Fantasia Film Festival Review
2. Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)
I may be getting ahead of myself with this statement, but Martha Marcy May Marlene, could easily be one of the most boring thrillers you would come across, and I loved it! The usual thriller fans should avoid it, but if you seek something beyond a few forgettable shocks and twists, MMMM ends your search.
The plot focuses on a young woman, Martha Marcy May Marlene, suffering from delusions and paranoia after returning to her family from an abusive cult. The slow yet intense build-up is uncomfortable. You’ll find yourself restless (not bored) because director Sean Surkin creates a world that is so real yet fantastical. Elizabeth Olsen delivers a mesmerizing debut performance as Martha. Her control over the array of emotions is tremendously surprising. Though, the film has a few rusty edges. The parallel timelines (a la Momento) felt too gimmicky to me for a psychological movie like this, and the film was also not aiming for character development either.
However, I recommend you let go of these shortcomings because Martha Marcy May Marlene is a gratifying experience otherwise. Not only the script but even the performances also play with your mind. It’s an exercise in a broken emotional mirror, social condemnation, and tending to oblique hurt, comfortably snuggling under a psychological thriller slash drama quilt.
3. Run (2020)
Run is probably the most accessible, campy psychological thriller on this list. With familiar beats, you know exactly where the film will go, but the journey is bloody damn entertaining! The film stars Kiera Allen as Chloe Sherman, a disabled homeschooled teenager who begins to suspect that her mother, Diane (Sarah Paulson), is keeping a dark secret about her upbringing.
Kiera Allen has used a wheelchair in real-life since 2014. The filmmakers wanted to cast a disabled actress, stating that Hollywood rarely casts disabled actors for disabled roles, which makes this the first significant thriller to star a wheelchair user since Rear Window (1998). Kiera and Sarah lead the film to such an unusual trajectory with their performances that it starts to play with you psychologically. Clocking in at an economical 90 minutes, Run takes a simple premise and unfolds it with such energy that your brain is frozen before you know it. Director Aneesh Chaganty’s career is something to look out for, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
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4. Possessor (2020)
Possessor is not for a mainstream fan. It’s not something you’ll often experience on the big screen. Highly experimental, it operates on consciousness and existentialism’s mind-bending themes. Tasya Vos (the always reliable Andrea Riseborough) is a corporate agent who uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies, driving them to commit assassinations for the company’s benefit. While she has a special gift for the work, her experiences on these jobs have caused her mental strain, and soon she finds herself trapped in the mind of a man whose identity threatens to destroy her own.
One of the most unsettling films, Possessor, spreads like a fever dream, a grotesque one. It is richly layered with great cinematic devices that aim to depict the horror revealed through identity theft. It’s a heady vision of yearning. Riseborough’s character is so insidious that you might feel almost immoral to appreciate the film. Possessor submerges you into its mystique and keeps playing with your mind long after it’s over. Riseborough’s character is so insidious that you might feel almost immoral to appreciate the film. One of the most interesting, psychologically feverish films on Hulu.
5. The Beta Test (2021)
The Beta Test is a gorgeous blend of genres, perfectly balancing black humor and psychological terror. The film’s overall tone is unease, mystery, and black humor, peppered with a shock now and then. A married Hollywood agent (Jim Cummings) receives a mysterious letter for an anonymous sexual encounter (six weeks before his wedding) and becomes ensnared in a sinister world of lies, murder, and infidelity. The comedy here wouldn’t make you laugh, but the situations and dialogues are undoubtedly amusing.
At times, The Beta Test feels almost too ambitious, tucked in with heightened surrealistic ideas, but it never leaves a certain charm that will captivate the viewer throughout. The Beta Test isn’t the most original idea, but the smooth cocktail of dark comedy, thriller, psychological manipulation of the script, and solid performances makes it highly entertaining. With some genuinely unsettling scenes being complimented by dry humor, The Beta Test offers a quirky, satirical, and savage peep into Hollywood’s internal corridors. Some of the scariest dialogue is repeated verbatim from testimony given to the filmmakers by 11 assistants, agents, and ex-agents at the four largest Agencies in Hollywood.
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6. Fresh (2022)
Fresh follows Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones), who meets the alluring Steve (Sebastian Stan) at a grocery store and – given her frustration with dating apps – takes a chance and gives him her number. After their first date, Noa is smitten and accepts Steve’s invitation to a romantic weekend getaway. Only to find that her new paramour has been hiding something unusual.
Edgar-Jones is a revelation here as Noa. After years of solid work in TV, Fresh is a career moment for her. She owns the film. She commands attention when she is vulnerable, in charge, bored, or excited. Even if the subject matter might be too hard for some, you can’t ignore her performance. The first act of Fresh gives a false sense of familiar beats.
The title and opening credit roll out approximately 40 minutes into the film, and your jaws will be on the floor by then. The first act of Fresh gives a false sense of familiar beats. The stunningly apparent tonal shift is going to blow your mind away. Thriller in its text and psychological execution, Fresh is a refreshingly unpredictable and off-kilter feature debut of the director Mimi Cave. I recommend you get into it with minimal knowledge to have the maximum impact. It’s one of the most interesting psychological films on Hulu.
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7. The Killing of Two Lovers (2020)
A man desperately tries to keep his family of six together during a separation from his wife. They both agree to see other people, but he struggles to come to terms with her new relationship. The synopsis reads like an intense family drama, but The Killing of Two Lovers also walks on a suspense/ thriller rope, mainly thanks to the powerful sound design. Right from the terrific first scene, there is a sense of desperation, intensity & restlessness, even though nothing happens.
With the misleading title, The Killing of Two Lovers is a slow-burn with a highly symbolic dry and barren landscape of rural America. The film evolves into its romantic horror genre (or an edge-of-the-seat romance, if you will), despite no physical or tangible horror. Much like the fantastic Shiva Baby (2020), The Killing of Two Lovers cleverly creates an intense mess out of a non-horror topic.
Instead of descending into a genre film, marriage’s emotional strains and vulnerability keeps The Killing of Two Lovers afloat. It’s not for everyone, but once you start watching it, you will be compelled to finish it. It’s an evocative, unflinching, chilly, moody thriller/ love story/ drama. Imagine Marriage Story (2019) with A24’s aesthetics.
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8. Thelma (2017)
Thelma tells the story of a sheltered young woman (the outstanding Eili Harboe) who discovers she has an inexplicable power that materializes when she feels the desire for a female student at her university. It is as much of a psychological thriller as it is a drama. It’s also a love story, a whodunit (and why), and a coming-of-age fable. It’s a beautifully messy mix of genres.
A slow burn, it serves as a melancholy meditation of love and identity. Director Joachim Trier spends much of the first act coyly conversing with varied themes like mental health, sexuality, religious extremism, alienation, etc. And, when you start to wonder if this is what you’ve signed in for, it slowly and deliberately metamorphosizes into a supernatural thriller.
Thelma is delightfully twisted, a new take on body horror. It plays with your mind without bruising it. The film is so intimate that you must consciously try to alienate yourself from it. Unlike Trier’s previous naturalistic work, Thelma has a very different visual grammar with the hyper-stylized framework. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s not a psychological thriller in its purest form but one of the greatest genre-jumping experiences on Hulu.
9. Borgman (2013)
I don’t know how to write a synopsis of Borgman or how exactly to explain this film. So, I turned to the internet and got this – “A vagrant turns the lives of arrogant upper-class people into a psychological nightmare.” Well, let’s work with it for now. Borgman requires some unpacking from the audience. What the film means is anyone’s guess; everything needs to be spelled out or underlined. There was no exposition, climax, resolution, or explanation. And it’s jubilating. The tone of the film is uneasy, tense, and unsettling. Because of the layered surrealism, it might alienate a massive section of the audience that doesn’t revel in absurdity.
Director Alex van Warmerdam pollinates the film with biblical references, always subtly present in the background. The dark humor also triggers the meta-ethics molecules in your brain, and many compelling, scary scenes will stay with you long after. The film also edges sharp with the peak and the nadir of capitalism commentary; you need to identify it. Borgman will make you feel that you are being toyed with. It feels like a sadistic joke by the maker on the audience where he is enjoying their misery by not explaining anything, much like Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997). Borgman is one of Hulu’s most efficient and perplexing psychological thrillers. It is highly recommended.
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10. Memories of Murder (2003)
Loosely based on the true story of Korea’s first recorded serial murders, which occurred between 1986 and 1991 in rural South Korea. Memories of Murder follows two detectives, played by Song Kang-ho and Kim Sang-kyung, trying to solve the crimes. The film is not a psychological thriller in its subject but in execution. It’s absorbing, tragically hilarious, profoundly ironic, and a sad, desperate reflection of a nation’s gasp to stay afloat. In a typical Bong Joon-ho fashion, Memories of Murder keeps you initially at a distance. Without warning, it topples you with a nerve-wracking jolt of adrenaline. Even if you don’t want to, you are frustratingly involved, and it starts to play with your mind.
The lingering psychological effect of the film engulfs you. Director Bong Joon-ho was confident that the killer would watch the movie. In the film’s final shot, Song Kang-ho looks directly into the camera. He is looking at the audience and is face-to-face with the killer (as if he is watching the scene). And the killer watched the film! After the film’s release, there was a renewed upsurge of interest in the case, finally leading to the identification of the culprit in 2019. His DNA matched while he was already serving a life sentence for the rape & murder of his sister-in-law in 1994. He was surprised that it took them this long to identify him as, according to him, he never tried hard enough to hide anything. Memories of Murder will haunt you with its elusive, desperate, sensitive texture, and the fact that it’s based on a true story will give you sleepless nights.