There is no denying The Silence of the Lambs has its place in cinema’s history. Jonathan Demme’s film rests on the hallowed grounds of the art form’s traditions having a legacy of its own. The visceral serial killer it gave us in the form of Hannibal Lecter was hitherto unimaginable. The film broke barriers and set a fashionable trend for serial killer stories wrapped in the explosive package of thriller features. But the film wasn’t just about catching a serial killer. He was already caught. The catch came in how the story proceeded thereafter and that is what we celebrate in this list of films like The Silence of the Lambs you must check out.

1. The House that Jack Built (2018)

With Lars von Trier, you expect the unexpected. But you’d hardly imagine him going so far as he did with The House that Jack Built. The title can be misleading too. Safe to say, it is not a sentimental drab show about an honest good soul named Jack, who built a house that was dear to him. The house was indeed “dear” to him but in a different sense. Matt Dillon superbly plays the serial killer, capturing the essence of a narcissist with relentless passion. Not even for a minute does he snap out of his killer-crazed avatar to give us a wholesome portrait of a man who feels nothing inside. Like Silence of the Lambs, this film romanticizes the flair that its central subjects discovered. They might be evil incarnate but were definitely “artists” in their own right, as both respective films took on the task to show them in the light.

Another interesting angle linking up the two films might be a bit of a stretch but just bear with me. Lecter only opened up to Clarice Starling. This is a fact that is undeniable. He specifically asked for her by name and would not talk to anyone else. He felt he had a chance to maybe justify his motivations to Clarice. It was almost like she was the jury in this dynamic. Jack had a similar tone to Virgil. Although the justification isn’t replete in either case, it makes for an interesting case study. The House is perhaps a bit more visceral and takes off in Trier’s reverie in the third act altogether. But for most parts, it proves to be a worthy companion to a film like Silence of the Lambs.

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2. No man of God (2021)

Ted Bundy is an infamous part of American serial killers folklore. There have been so many of them over the years, ironically, but Bundy stands out as an intriguing focal point. Officer Hagmaeir and Bundy shared not just a professional relationship if you can call it that, but also a rapport like Lecter and Starling. No Man of God dramatized their conversations and that was documented by Hagmaier after Bundy died. They developed a friendship as the FBI personnel found it tough to break through to him. It was not as if they couldn’t find evidence to convict him. But they all wanted to eavesdrop and gain insights into how incredibly emotionless, regretless, and narcissistic Bundy was. He was so ignorant of his crimes that he cried out for help from Hagmaier in that last episode which made him seem delusional.

Of course, you need a dash of that if you want to be a serial killer. But Bundy’s case was special. Lecter and Bundy are in no way alike. They couldn’t be any more different than an orange and an apple. But it is the introduction of a trained, knowledgeable, and sympathetic ear in the equation that changes things. It brings them closer than Lecter probably would have wanted. The latter quality is extremely important and both Elijah Wood and Jodie Foster got that quality perfectly right.

3. Primal Fear (1996)

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Even with its legal and intellectual orientation, Primal Fear is one of the best comparators to Silence of the Lambs in the list. It stars Richard Gere and Edward Norton in key roles but features a talented ensemble cast. While the plot is easily understandable, the nuances around the judicial process and how the actual truth about the murder comes to the surface are the real treat. Director Gregory Hoblit exercises fine control over his narrative. The grip is loosened to let in some sentimentality but it does not ruin the experience. The dramatic heft is woven into the fabric of the storytelling through some really fine performances and crevices in the story to introduce very interesting characters. Like Silence of the Lambs, Primal Fear capitalizes on the almost obsessive compulsions of a member of the law enforcement agency and how that defines their lives.

Both Gere and Foster’s characters do not remain the same after they have taken up this particular case. From that point of view, the two films offer keen insights into how such gravitational acts change the course of their lives. Primal Fear works both as a procedural drama and a severely entertaining mystery about solving a murder. While it resists the whodunit traditional style, the element is most strongly present in the undercurrents of the plot.

4. Se7en (1995)

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Se7en deserves to be on almost every imaginable list of the best films in the category. Be it within the genre, or out of it, Seven is cinema’s cultural legacy. A young David Fincher gave an enthralling account of his directorial prowess. He extracted toll-taking performances from veteran Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, giving us an iconic buddy cop duo whose “buddiness” is constantly under challenge due to the inherent nature of their personal beliefs. Like Silence of the Lambs, Seven features a detailed version of the relationship between the cat and the mouse, i.e., the killer and the police. Kevin Spacey, before his career, went up into space and brought his intrinsic predatory skills into his character in a convincing fashion. That, however, should not have come as a surprise. Especially in 2022.

But the memory of watching Seven is forever encapsulated by that infamous climax scene involving Bradd Pitt, Spacey, and “some” of Gwyneth Paltrow. Watching Seven years apart gives you different perspectives on the morality of the story and the characters. It is quite close to True Detective as well in how it plays on the leads’ camaraderie, using it like an exploitative tool to embellish the impact of the storytelling.

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5. Insomnia (2002)

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Here was another film I found to be along the same tangent where the killer and the man/woman responsible for bringing them down warms up to them. Michael Mann’s brilliant Heat also came to mind but it didn’t have quite the same vile and mystery as Insomnia did. In Heat, there was a sort of respect for the mutuality of Hanna and Neil’s conditions. But in Insomnia, Pacino and Williams share a perverse, almost teasing dynamic, as Foster and Hopkins did in Silence of the Lambs.

It is no coincidence that Al Pacino features in both films. The shades of detectives he plays are different but they both suffer from the curse of the human condition. The mercurial actor is in a league of his own. But Insomnia does compare to Silence of the Lambs as a lighter, more subtle version without histrionics or flashy gore. The psychological element is much stronger and explored more deeply than in Silence of the Lambs. In hindsight, it seems the perfect creative choice as this is the defining highlight that makes Insomnia such a classic watch.

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6. The Little Things (2021)

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How often can a film featuring names like Denzel Washington, Jared Leto, and Rami Malek disappoint? Not too much but unfortunately, The Little Things, currently streaming on Netflix, got the stickler. There were indeed high expectations from the project. The 1990s setting of Los Angeles adds to the charm of the central mystery – the search for a stalker and a serial killer. John Kee Hancock’s treatment of the story is quite impressive. However, the story itself cannot stand up for itself. Maybe it was due to what we thought would happen and what eventually did. That bias aside, The Little Things is not as bad a movie. The suspense does not feel strong and original enough. Watching it, you will realize that you have definitely seen some of those elements before in films, hence, making the end product a bit derivative.

7. American Psycho (2000)

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Christian Bale’s memes as Bateman (and “Batman”) can be ubiquitously spotted across the internet with ease. His portrayal is remembered for its ironic creepiness and sex-crazed vibes, giving us all mixed signals. As far as serial killer films go, American Psycho captures one’s attention in an instant. The crazy, gory visual language of the film resembles Silence of the Lambs greatly. More so, the killers are quite alike too. Both kill with pleasure and take a keen interest in how they complete the kills while maintaining a disdain toward the individual as well. Hannibal perhaps takes the cake when it comes to showmanship and artisan quality like Jack. On the other hand, Patrick is aroused by his resentment toward the victims and what they represent in his mind.

American Psycho is a timeless classic that blends mania with social commentary. The more people see it, the more they will become convinced of Mary Harron’s intimate connection with the viewer and what she offers through her work. Her satirical tone is not to be confused with derision of the world around her but the chassis of what it has become without the realization of it.

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8. The Cell (2000)

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Perusing the mind of a serial killer can be done in more than one way. It can be face-to-face as Clarice did. Or, it can be through sing experimental technology when the killer is comatose. That is how Jennifer Lopez as Catherine Deane proceeds in The Cell. It is a weird-sounding premise and looks very futuristic too, albeit with its share of tackiness. But some of the exploration of crime through the eyes of the killer is quite like Silence of the Lambs. Before he was Kingpin Vincent D’Onofrio was Carl Rudolph Stargher, perhaps manifold more evil than the comic character. Lopez and D’Onofrio share quite some time together in the latter’s dreamscape, despite the other manifestations of Stargher in it.

They almost give the effect of watching Hopkins and Foster together, not with the same impact, however. One thing that definitely works for The Cell is its stunning visual imagery, which admittedly is a hit or miss. The polarizing experimentation works for some viewers who like fresher renditions in the sci-fi genre. In fact, the work of a lot of artists served as inspiration for the set designs. On paper, though, some more foundational work to associate the story with the viewer’s sensibilities was required.

9. Citizen X (1995)

Citizen X is a masterclass on how to adapt non-fiction books without undermining their essence. Director Chris Gerolmo, who also wrote the television adaptation, maintains a keenly constant balance of story and drama, blending his themes with effortless ease. Citizen X has an absorbing rhythm to it, most earnestly capitalizing on the nexus of crime, politics, and the mystery element behind serial killers. The relentless urge to keep tabs on how the characters appeal to the audience is a unique quality that links Citizen X to Silence of the Lambs. Gerolmo is very cautious of going overboard with the dramatization of certain events and cherry-picks the parts he thinks would make the difference in a film setup. He keeps matters interesting for us, giving us enough time to familiarize ourselves with the content and play around with theories.

The true story behind the film is indeed a shocker, maybe even more than the cinematic reality of Silence of the lambs. Andrei Chikatilo murdered around 52 people in a very short span of time. He is one of the most ruthless and inhumane figures in true-crime history ever. Jeffrey DeMunn incredibly got under the skin of Chikatilo and made sure that we have yet another iconic culture-defining serial killer to obsess after.

10. My Friend Dahmer (2017)

Watching My Friend Dahmer is like watching Bates Motel for those initiated with their respective predecessors. It works like q prequel where you see the monsters we all fear taking shape and how they became so. It is quite hard not to get carried away and judge them for what they do in posterity. A tendency to nitpick and recontextualize their lives is also not lost whilst watching such works. My Friend Dahmer is perhaps a significant watch given the contemporary Netflix series doing so well. Although the film is not as perverse, it does maintain some level of repulsion that fits the bill. Ross Lynch gives a commanding performance as Dahmer. Some of the moments you see in his portrait can easily send chills down your spine. Not only is his look uncannily similar to Dahmer, his manner of speaking and demeanor too add up in the calculation.

The actual details of Dahmer’s killings make him a sort of real version of Hannibal Lecter. Sans the refinement and class, Dahmer shares the skill to sniff out fear and barge home the work needed to make his crazy fantasies and obsession a reality. Of course, he comes with human imperfections owing to his real-life connection. But Dahmer and Lecter are spiritual companions who aren’t too dissimilar to not make a comparison.

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The Silence of the Lambs Links: IMDb, Wikipedia

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