10 scary movies for people who don’t like horror

Not long ago, a colleague who is squeamish about horror movies described some of the scariest movies she could get through. One of the titles she mentioned? Bong Joon Hos parasite. But waitI thought, this is not a horror movie. A suspenseful thriller maybe, a satirical drama with some frightening bits, but nothing you would have put on the “horror” shelf in video stores when video stores still existed.

Still, it belongs to a fun category of films that play with suspense, mystery, and creepiness without constantly sowing fear; These stories unsettle, but are not primarily intended to upset and upset viewers. Below are 10 other worthy and fascinating movies that I would consider great “scary” movies for people who don’t like horror. Even if you’re easily spooked like my colleague, you’ll find something to love on this list.


The novice (2021, directed by Lauren Hadaway)

A brilliant and sadly underrated indie film from first-time filmmaker Hadaway, The novice presents itself initially as a sports drama. An ambitious college freshman named Alex Dall (played by Isabelle Fuhrman) takes a rowing class and is itching to quickly join her school’s team. As the story progresses, Alex’s passion turns into an obsession and she is particularly fixated on the clockwork consistency demanded of the best rowers. Fuhrman (known for the Orphaned horror franchise) delivers an intense performance, but Hadaway’s ability to scale the suspense to nightmare levels is what really stands out when Alex’s dedication turns surreal.
View or rent/buy on Showtime

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The fits (2016, directed by Anna Rose Holmer)

Another amazing and under-the-radar debut, The fits is unsettling because it evokes a very specific mood: early childhood anxiety. Toni (Royalty Hightower) is an 11-year-old trainer at a Cincinnati boxing studio who becomes intrigued by a group of older girls practicing dance there. As she begins to dance with them, a strange and inexplicable seizure disorder begins to spread through the group, a phenomenon that Holmer’s screenplay keeps in purely metaphorical territory. The fits is a strange, sometimes unsettling, but subtle and insightful look at the bizarre forms of peer pressure.
View or rent/buy on Showtime

nerve (2016, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman)

A techno thriller with slick modern humor, nerve was a low-key hit in 2016, but it’s not talked about enough today. Based on a novel by Jeanne Ryan, the film is a clever satire built around an online game called Nerve, which encourages players to transact fancy dares themselves in exchange for money. Vee (Emma Roberts) is hired by her friend as a gag; She quickly reunites with fellow co-star Ian (Dave Franco) and they rampage through New York City, completing increasingly intense quests. nerve is quasi-action film, quasi-rom-com, but everything has a creepy edge, both in its portrayal of the game’s mob mentality and in the darker turns Vee and Ian take in the film’s final act.
Can be rented/bought

Berber recording studio (2012, directed by Peter Strickland)

Peter Strickland’s Psychodrama is a great way to see a horror film without actually seeing a horror film: it’s about producing a film that audiences never see. Set in an Italian production studio, it follows mild-mannered sound engineer Gilderoy (Toby Jones) cooking up audio effects for a Gialo Film (a particularly vibrant Italian subgenre of horror) that seems to involve all manner of torture and screeches. Strickland’s trick is to not really reveal what the movie-within-a-movie is about, or even give many details about the scenes Gilderoy is working on; Instead, the tension arises from witnessing the audible process slowly wearing down on the character’s sanity.
Check it out on AMC+, Kanopy, or Rent/Buy

Girl pinned to a wooden table with butterfly wings
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paprika (2006, directed by Satoshi Kon)

The trippy final masterpiece by Japanese animator Kon, who died of cancer in 2010 at the age of 46, paprika is a dazzling representation of the boundary between dream and reality. Set in the near future, it focuses on a new technology that allows scientists to penetrate other people’s dreams. If that sounds like the plot of the later blockbuster beginningYes, the comparison is often made. But while Christopher Nolan’s film has an action-thriller slant, paprika is far stranger, as Kon’s animation style loads every dream sequence with busy and unnerving visuals. Some of Kon’s films (particularly Perfect Blue) could still be classified as absolute horror paprika goes a much blurrier line; It can be fun and surreal one moment and bone dry the next.
Can be rented/bought

red road (2006, directed by Andrea Arnold)
The feature film debut of the later director Arnold Aquarium and American honey (along with Season 2 of Big little lies), red road is a psychological suspense thriller set in a real-life, now demolished housing project in Glasgow, Scotland. The Red Road Flats were the tallest residential buildings in Europe when they were built in the 1960s, but they eventually became a symbol of urban rot, and Arnold uses them to explore Britain’s growing reliance on surveillance amid the collapse of its social safety net . Jackie Morrison (Kate Dickie) is an operator who monitors the buildings and spies on countless security cameras in search of criminals and intruders; Eventually, she becomes intrigued by an ex-con named Clyde (Tony Curran) and tries to connect with him in real life. Arnold’s film is a somber but authentic watch that transforms its grim setting into a setting for a doomed romance.
Check it out on Kanopy

On average (2003, directed by Jane Campion)

Campion’s film, based on a novel by Susanna Moore, cheerfully defies the genre definition that typifies the Oscar-winning New Zealand director but is also a likely explanation for the film’s poor reception upon release. However, it deserves cult classic status for its beguiling weaving of a sex thriller, a detective story, and an anthropological study of early 2000s New York. Meg Ryan (in a quiet, anti-type performance) plays an introverted English teacher named Frannie Avery who begins dating a police officer (Mark Ruffalo) who is investigating a series of murders related to her building. On average is both genuinely sexy and at times amazing, with moments that rock Franny’s inner-city bourgeois life — but that’s all part of the thrill of watching him.
View or rent/buy on Roku

Swimming pool (2003, directed by François Ozon)

A kind of homage to the classic French drama of the 1960s La Piscine, Ozone’s Movie is a superb and underrated erotic thriller that pits a movie legend (Charlotte Rampling) against an aspiring genius (Ludivine Sagnier) in a battle of wits and ego. Sarah Morton (Rampling) is a writer who uses a country house in southern France to overcome writer’s block. Julie (Sagnier) is the owner’s daughter who appears out of nowhere and starts wreaking havoc. What begins as an awkward coexistence becomes sexually charged and antagonistic as Julie’s personal life begins to invade Sarah’s, and Ozone beautifully increases the dreamlike tension with every act.
Can be rented/bought

Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover in
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Lover (1998, directed by Jonathan Demme)

A big-budget adaptation of a canonical work of American literature, Lover was released in hopes of being a major Oscar contender, starring Oprah Winfrey and producing and directed by Demme (whose previous two films were The silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia). But audiences and critics found it off-putting at the time, perhaps because it’s such an effective piece of filmmaking, both a ghost story and a searing tale of slavery. So much of the imagery in Loverwho follows a formerly enslaved woman named Sethe (played by Winfrey) wrestling with the demons of her past is just shocking. Most frightening, however, is the supernatural narrative that swirls around the mysterious spirit Beloved (Thandiwe Newton) who enters Sethe’s life and begins to unravel it.
View or rent/buy on Showtime

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975, directed by Peter Weir)

So many of the best non-horror horror movies are scary for what they are Not show, and Weir’s Australian masterpiece is memorable precisely because it is about something unseen. Set in 1900’s Victoria, Australia, it follows the disappearance of several schoolgirls while on a picnic, a possibly supernatural event that has the local community concerned. As Weir’s story drags on, efforts to solve the mystery fail, only fueling fears of what may actually have happened. Picnic at Hanging Rock would be far less effective if it ever revealed what was going on; As it is, Weir’s film is one that will stick in viewers’ minds for years after seeing it.
Watch or rent/buy on HBO Max

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