Two best friends in danger in The Boy Behind the Door
(Shudder)

10 Best Modern Psychological Horror Movies

Strangely, I’m more disturbed and yet more fascinated by psychological horror films than supernatural or slasher horrors. It’s as if my mind is magnetically drawn to the twisted depths of mental torment, even if it sends shivers down my spine. 

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Really, who can resist those intriguing narratives that are as tight as a straitjacket and twists that make you question your sense of morality? Psychological horror movies flirt with our inner masochist, and these ten modern films prove why this sub-genre is so irresistible. 

A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

A Tale of Two Sisters cast
(Cineclick Asia)

The South Korean masterwork by Kim Jee-Woon, A Tale of Two Sisters, is a frightening picture that takes you through a psychological funhouse where reflections are warped and nothing is as it seems. Like the protagonists, the audience becomes entangled in a complex web of gothic motifs, family strife, and supernatural fear as the story progresses. 

The film plays coy with its secrets, flirting with the viewers’ expectations and then, like a coy mistress, dashes them with a sly, knowing smile. You watch not just for the thrill but to decode the enigma, to peel aside the ornate wallpaper of its storyline. And just when you think you have A Tale of Two Sisters figured out, the story takes a turn so unexpected and clever.

Censor (2021)

two women dressed in white gowns in 'Censor'
(Vertigo Films)

Censor jumps into the grimy, sticky-floored world of video nasties and is less a film and more a psychological romp set in the bleak era of ’80s Britain. Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond, who clearly rummaged through the attic of vintage horror to dress her set, this film is a love letter to the genre, sealed with a kiss and a bit of blood. 

The story follows Enid, a film censor with the enviable task of watching gruesome flicks for a living, cutting out the bits too spicy for public consumption. It’s all guts and glory until Enid encounters a film that might just star her long-lost sister, and from there, the lines between her reality and the slashers she screens begin to blur. 

The Boy Behind the Door (2020)

The Boy Behind the Door poster
(Shudder)

The film The Boy Behind the Door, directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell, is a nail-biting tribute to the power of childhood friendship in the face of the kind of terrifying trauma that would send even the bravest babysitter scurrying. The film, seemingly innocent in its title, unfolds like a nightmarish game of hide-and-seek, where the stakes are alarmingly real and the ‘it’ is not a giggling child but a menacing threat with intentions darker than an overcast midnight. 

Our plucky protagonists, Bobby and Kevin, embody the kind of ride-or-die friendship that would make the Hardy Boys nod in solemn respect. With a plot that sprints at the pace of a sugar-rushed toddler, the film offers many twists, each turn evoking a gasp or a palm sweatily clutching the armrest. 

Ma (2019)

Octavia Spencer in 'Ma'
(Universal Pictures)

Ma cheekily reminds us that the scariest monsters are sometimes clad in veterinary scrubs and offer free booze. Octavia Spencer, the eponymous “Ma,” is the cool mom you never had, unless your cool mom also had a thing for psychological torture and a basement that screams “designer dungeon chic.” 

Directed by Tate Taylor, the film winks at classic teen tropes—the out-of-control parties, the cliquey angst—then turns the dial up to ‘bonkers,’ blending a John Hughes vibe with a touch of Hitchcockian horror. Ma’s house becomes the hottest underage club in town, proving nothing says ‘party’ like a venue with a strict “no parents, no rules, and definitely no escape” policy. It’s a cautionary tale that the next time a stranger invites you over for shots and shenanigans, maybe just say no.

Annihilation (2018)

Gina Rodriguez, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson and Tuva Novotnyin stand armed and ready to enter a quarantined swampland in 'Annihilation.'
(Paramount Pictures/Netflix)

Annihilation is a colorful journey into a shimmering botanical hellscape that looks like it was landscaped by Salvador Dali on a bender. The film follows a squad of women, each more badass than the last, as they venture into ‘The Shimmer,’ a mysterious zone where the laws of nature go to get high on their own supply. It’s as if Mother Nature got crafty with the DNA photocopier, splicing genes with the whim of a toddler mixing Play-Doh colors. 

Natalie Portman leads the pack as a biologist with a gaze as steely as her resolve, diving headfirst into an ecological fever dream that’s part physics lesson, part acid trip. The beauty of Annihilation lies in its ability to be both visually stunning and viscerally unsettling; it’s a film that seduces with its otherworldly flora and fauna, only to reveal that the flowers have teeth. 

Saint Maud (2019)

Morfydd Clark in 'Saint Maud'
(StudioCanal)

Saint Maud, a film that tiptoes along the tightrope of sanctity and insanity, is a holy rollercoaster of a horror flick. Directed by Rose Glass, this cinematic prayer is whispered in the dark and answered with a scream. The film introduces us to Maud, a palliative care nurse with the kind of righteousness that makes the Spanish Inquisition look like a casual debate club. Maud’s faith is as genuine as a fever dream and about as stable as a house of cards in a wind tunnel. 

She’s on a divine mission to save souls, but it’s clear that her GPS is set to the scenic route through hell. Saint Maud is a slow burn that simmers with a holy fire, illuminating the shadowy line between devotion and delusion. It’s as if the film itself has taken a vow of chilling celibacy, abstaining from cheap scares to seduce us with its atmospheric tension and a sense of foreboding that clings like incense smoke. 

Black Box (2020)

Mamoudou Athie and Phylicia Rashad in 'Black Box'
(Amazon MGM Studios)

Directed by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr., Black Box invites us into the scrambled psyche of a man whose memories are playing hide and seek in the deep recesses of his consciousness post-accident. The titular black box is less an electronic device and more a Pandora’s Box of the cerebral kind, promising to restore what was lost but at the price of unearthing what might be better left buried. 

An intriguing debut for writer-director Osei-Kuffour Jr. and starring Mamoudou Athie, Phylicia Rashad, Amanda Christine, and Tosin Morohunfola, Black Box offers a dive into the deep end of the mind’s pool without the comfort of floaties. 

The Night House (2021)

Rebecca Hall in 'The Night House'
(Searchlight Pictures)

The Night House takes the haunted house genre, flips it on its ethereal head, and constructs its chills with architectural precision as if M.C. Escher sketched the blueprints. Here, director David Bruckner crafts a story that’s as much about the ghosts of grief as it is about bump-in-the-night frights. 

Rebecca Hall plays Beth, a widow whose mourning is interrupted not by a casserole brigade but by a husband who seems to be pulling a Lazarus from beyond the grave. But this isn’t your typical ghost story; there are no rattling chains or drafty moans, just an unsettling silence and a lake house that’s a tad too fond of symmetry. The film cleverly constructs a narrative where each corridor and corner might just lead Beth (and the audience) into a psychological ambush. 

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

Colin Farrell and Barry Keoghan in 'The Killing of a Sacred Deer'
(Curzon Artificial Eye)

Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a perplexing fable offering a plot so unnervingly straight-faced that it makes poker players look emotionally unhinged. Lanthimos, ever the connoisseur of the bizarre, presents us with Steven, a surgeon with the emotional range of a teaspoon, who befriends a boy with the ominous aura of a Greek tragedy waiting to happen. 

The film unfolds with the grim inevitability of a car crash in slow motion—except everyone’s discussing the weather as they collide. It’s a world where dialogue is delivered with the tonal quality of a Wikipedia article, and the tension is cranked up to eleven. Yet, no one seems to have received the memo. Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman navigate this sterile emotional landscape with the precision of surgeons—appropriate, given the profession of Farrell’s character.

Unsane (2018)

Claire Foy in 'Unsane'
(Bleecker Street)

Unsane, Steven Soderbergh’s psychological thriller, introduces us to Sawyer Valentini, who’s involuntarily committed to a mental institution with the welcoming charm of a Roach Motel. As Sawyer navigates the Kafkaesque labyrinth of healthcare bureaucracy, viewers can’t help but wonder if her alleged stalker is real or just the latest boogeyman cooked up by her mind’s Michelin-starred chef of paranoia. 

Unsane is a merry-go-round of mind games where every character twirls with questionable intent, and the audience is left gripping the reins of sanity, hoping not to be flung off by the next revolution.

(featured image: Shudder)


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Author
Image of Faith Katunga
Faith Katunga
Faith is a freelance journalist with an insatiable curiosity for all aspects of current events, from the global economy and fashion to pop culture and travel. She watches an absurd number of cat videos on Instagram when not reading or writing about what is going on in the world. Faith has written for several publications, including We Got This Covered, Italy Magazine, TheTravel, etc., and holds a master's degree in Fashion Culture and Management.