Fill Me With Dread
January 2, 2011 5:37 PM   Subscribe

I just spent the weekend watching Breaking Bad, a show that is brilliant and full of intensely unpleasant moments of tension. I'm looking for books, shows, or movies that produce similar feelings of dread. The Shield offered something like this, as well as No Country for Old Men, The Strain, BSG, The Road, and parts of Justified. Any recommendations? (Extra points for anything available to watch on Netflix Instant)
posted by chichimimizu to Media & Arts (64 answers total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
The Wire, I think, has some of this quality.
posted by box at 5:39 PM on January 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

Das Boot. It's the tensest and most claustrophobic film I've ever seen.
posted by Wemmick at 5:51 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bookwise, Jim Thompson is the king of foreboding. Megan Abbott does it well, too.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:52 PM on January 2, 2011

I felt similarly mesmerized by There Will Be Blood and Children of Men. I rented both on a whim, and was a little unprepared and pleasantly surprised how captivatingly tense they both were.
posted by shortyJBot at 5:53 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

The original Alien and Black Hawk Down both recommended.
posted by effluvia at 5:54 PM on January 2, 2011

Wire In The Blood. It's a BBC show, but I'm pretty certain I watched it on Netflix.
posted by bibliogrrl at 6:00 PM on January 2, 2011

The Coens are masters at this. I'd check out Blood Simple if I were you.
posted by hermitosis at 6:01 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

After watching Black Water, I've decided to stay a minimum of 1000 yards away from any swamp. It is available to watch instantly on Netflix.
posted by invisible ink at 6:02 PM on January 2, 2011

The Walking Dead tv series; survivors of a zombie plague. Some survivors make it, some don't. And you never know which it's going to be. Well fleshed out characters, all with flaws, lots of tension, and they always seem to be on the knife-edge of disaster, struggling to recover from their last mistake. Great cinematography also. FWIW, I'm a big fan of BB myself.

Season 2 is due october-ish this year; gonna be a long wait. There is also a highly-rated comic series the tv series is based on, but I've not read that so can't comment.

Children of Men also recommended.
posted by ArkhanJG at 6:05 PM on January 2, 2011

Definitely the Wire, my all time favorite series. Other shows which spring to mind are Nurse Jackie, Deadwood, Rome and Spartacus Blood and Sand. Terriers was an excellent series this year which unfortunately was cancelled, but has a certain car wreck in slow motion feel to it that highlights how broken the main characters are. I think this is the thread which runs through all of these shows regardless of their genre or setting; The main characters all have some serious issues which often lead them (and you the viewer) to events which make one want to hide or hit the mute button to reduce the anxious making moments. Season two of the wire was loaded with these moments, and it reminds me of two other shows that I almost forgot-Dexter and the Pillars of the Earth miniseries on Stars this summer. Hope this helps.
posted by chosemerveilleux at 6:06 PM on January 2, 2011

Dexter is on Netflix streaming. Sons of Anarchy has some of it, too, though it isn't on Netflix.
posted by milkrate at 6:07 PM on January 2, 2011

How could I forget Luther! Idriss Elba as this completely broken detective in london.
posted by chosemerveilleux at 6:07 PM on January 2, 2011

James Ellroy's American Tabloid gave me that kind of feeling.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:09 PM on January 2, 2011

Inglourious Basterds felt like it was 90% tense scenes. Lots of "trying to pass as natives behind enemy lines" type stuff with plenty of close calls, up until the very bloody and cathartic ending.
posted by castlebravo at 6:09 PM on January 2, 2011

Winter's Bone. Very good, very tense.
posted by pie_seven at 6:14 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Check out the show Damages. I'm huge a Breaking Bad fan and Damages stands up well, in my opinion. It's a slightly different style of tense but awesome nonetheless. First two seasons are available for streaming on Netflix, but season 3 is the best!
posted by milarepa at 6:32 PM on January 2, 2011

Along the lines of The Shield: Training Day, Harsh Times, The Departed
posted by astrochimp at 6:36 PM on January 2, 2011

Criminal Minds is often very tense. The bow-hunting episode comes to mind.
posted by jgirl at 6:38 PM on January 2, 2011

For books, there's the farseer trilogy and the A song of Ice and Fire series.
posted by ArkhanJG at 6:40 PM on January 2, 2011

Seconding Sons of Anarchy. It isn't on Netflix, but it's worth searching out. Lots of pretty desperate situations and people you end up caring about and hoping they won't do that awful thing, or make that poor choice that you know they will do anyway. Pretty good show, I think the third season just finished.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:40 PM on January 2, 2011

Dexter for sure and The Wire to a lesser extent. Oz (so many of the actors who play inmates ended up playing cops in The Wire... go figure) is tense and although it tells a lot of different stories, the show's main story arc revolves around 2&1/2.

Man, J.K. Simmons in Oz is exactly the kind of actor/character that will bring you buckets of unpleasant tension, mostly while antagonizing the very good Lee Tergesen's character, driving one of the main story arcs. Their developing relationship through the run of the show was brilliant and exactly what you're looking for.
posted by porpoise at 6:42 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

The 2003 movie Open Water.
posted by fuse theorem at 6:47 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

For a modern classic just filled to the brim with tense: Silence of the Lambs.
posted by matt_od at 7:14 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

From Hell, the best comic of the last twenty years.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:15 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding, thirding, and fourthing Inglourious Basterds. Just watch the opening scene and you'll have a sense of what you're in for.
posted by alms at 7:30 PM on January 2, 2011

The film Magnolia
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:31 PM on January 2, 2011

Dread by Clive Barker.
posted by empath at 7:49 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fawlty Towers
posted by theredpen at 7:50 PM on January 2, 2011

Came in to suggest Deadwood, and The Sopranos and The Wire while I'm at it.
posted by gerryblog at 7:53 PM on January 2, 2011

I just watched Cyrus. I squirmed the whole time.
posted by pianomover at 7:58 PM on January 2, 2011

Mad Men. I swear I did not get a good night's sleep during the entire run of the last two seasons.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 8:01 PM on January 2, 2011

Children of Men was so intense that I had to stop watching part way through and relax. No Country for Old Men is the most anxiety-producing movie or book or anything I've ever experienced. District 9 might fit this category as well.
posted by elder18 at 8:05 PM on January 2, 2011

Dexter and The Walking Dead. Pink Flamingos?
posted by 200burritos at 8:14 PM on January 2, 2011

Silence of the Lambs
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Bad Lieutenant (1992)
posted by mazola at 8:27 PM on January 2, 2011

I had to stop watching Damages for a while for this reason, so I second that.
posted by rtha at 8:49 PM on January 2, 2011

nthing Dexter.
posted by Giggilituffin at 9:34 PM on January 2, 2011

Most of David Lynch's stuff -- Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire, Lost Highway, Twin Peaks (season one).
posted by extramundane at 10:24 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

posted by mazola at 10:26 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know much about BB, but I just watched the opening sequence for a taste. I wish you'd been clearer about what you're looking for -- more action, or is standard existential dread OK, or do you need to feel queasy in one way or another? On the general theme of gripping dread and somewhat unpleasant tension, though:

Related to Open Water, there are the somewhat similar films Knife in the Water (Polanski's first feature film) and Dead Calm (adapted from a novel, also gripping, although the film has a bit of a Hollywood treatment about it).

Recent Netflix Instant watches along your lines include A Prophet and Tell No One (both French, the latter is being remade in English; it's from an American novel). Then there's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the Swedish version, not the forthcoming remake.

Maybe not exactly what you're looking for, but I quite enjoy the classic 70s-era political thrillers for this sense of ambiguous forboding. Things like The Conversation, Blow-Up, Z, The Parallax View (the first three all classic films you should see anyway).

For books, you probably want Patricia Highsmith. Start with The Talented Mr. Ripley; the movie to watch is the French adaptation Plein Soleil (Purple Noon), after which you are free to amuse yourself with the lesser American remake and sequels.

The Bourne series is probably known to you; the actress Franka Potente did a nifty thriller called Run Lola Run, which has its share of dramatic tension.

How much of Hitchcock have you watched? There are so many that seem these days known only to film students, and several are quite good at this sort of thing, e.g. Rebecca, or the amazing Shadow of a Doubt. Another take on similar themes was the expressionist thriller Night of the Hunter. And of course the candidates for best film of all time The Third Man and M. Welles's Touch of Evil probably fits the bill, too.

Forgive me if this is all too conventional for what you're seeking.
posted by dhartung at 10:56 PM on January 2, 2011

Zodiac gave me the creepy-crawlies pretty hard. Many, many moments of tension and dread. Only available on DVD, though.
posted by thehandsomecamel at 11:27 PM on January 2, 2011

Also, Cache, though it's quite slow and you have to pay attention in order to understand the rising tension in what you're being presented. But very much worth it. (Also sadly not on Watch Instantly. Catch up, film industry!)
posted by thehandsomecamel at 11:32 PM on January 2, 2011

Dread, you say? Try Iain Banks - A Song of Stone. A book that goes through the following stages, as I recall:

1. I have the feeling this will not end well.
2. Oh dear, I really don't think this is going to end well.
3. Oh dear.
5. Christ.
6. Bloody hell.
7. Where's my pistol?
posted by Decani at 11:47 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if these are available on Netflix Instant where you are, because it keeps redirecting me to the Canadian site. But they are definitely worth watching if you can find them on DVD.
  • Sympathy for Lady Vengeance: A woman wrongly accused of a crime gets out of prison and systematically carries out revenge on the one actually responsible. Watching this movie was the only time I've ever experienced a physical urge to get up and leave the theatre because I knew what was going to happen next would be REALLY BAD.
  • With A Friend Like Harry (apparently re-titled ridiculously as Harry, He's Here to Help since I saw it): A long-lost friend whom no one can seem to remember comes to visit and "helps out" a family in weird and intrusive ways.
  • Caché (Hidden): A man receives an anonymous videotape that shows someone is surveilling him and his family. (on preview, seconding thehandsomecamel)
As for books, I have often found myself wanting to flip ahead to the end of Jo Nesbo's Detective Harry Hole novels to find out what happens because the author is able to build up almost unbearable suspense. Arnaldur Indridason's Erlandur series is good this way too.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:05 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Haute Tension had me on the edge of my seat at times. Some great suspense with spectacularly bloody pay-offs. Too bad the ending screws the pooch so royally.
posted by brundlefly at 1:09 AM on January 3, 2011

Seconding Cache (all of Haneke's films, really) and Mulholland Drive.

Others: A History of Violence. The Searchers (yes, the John Wayne movie... the first 30 minutes are as tense as anything being made now, I think). 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. A Man Escaped. Dog Day Afternoon. Diabolique.

No Hitchcock yet? Psycho, Rear Window, and The Birds have plenty of campy moments, but also many great dread-inducing ones.
posted by quarked at 6:13 AM on January 3, 2011

The White Ribbon.
posted by maryrosecook at 8:47 AM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Heavenly Creatures
Hard Candy
posted by null14 at 8:47 AM on January 3, 2011

Wow, no one's said it yet:

The Thing. That entire movie is one giant quivering ball of tension. It's vicious. Not for the meek of heart, it's horror and some of the effects are grotesque.
posted by Ndwright at 9:14 AM on January 3, 2011

Wow. Yeah. I can't believe I didn't think of The Thing. Good choice.
posted by brundlefly at 9:23 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's an excellent documentary out there called Deep Water.

It's about an inexperienced sailor who joins a race around the world in 1968. The events that lead up to his involvement in the race and the race itself are really tense, especially since you know they really happened. Check it out!
posted by elder18 at 9:45 AM on January 3, 2011

It might not quite fit, but maaaybe Les Diaboliques? The protagonist's stress is kind of palpable and enduring if I recall.

Seconding The Wire, The Thing, Das Boot, Oz, and for comedy possibly Extras and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
posted by ifjuly at 10:01 AM on January 3, 2011

Ohohoh, and The Piano Teacher, which all this Black Swan hullabaloo reminded me of. And yes a thousand times to Mulholland Drive and most other Lynch. Cronenberg too, Dead Ringers say.

You might be able to make a case that Amores Perros is like this too.
posted by ifjuly at 10:03 AM on January 3, 2011

Catherine Breillat's stuff too sort of, maybe.

Has a sense of dread but might be the wrong atmosphere: Carl Dreyer's Vampyr and possibly The Passion of Joan of Arc.

Picnic at Hanging Rock.
posted by ifjuly at 10:05 AM on January 3, 2011

Seconding Dead Ringers. It's one of my favorite films, but I can't watch it more than once every few years. It's a really hard watch.
posted by brundlefly at 10:15 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

My heart starts racing just thinking about the classic film The Wages of Fear, about four men trying to drive trucks filled with dynamite through a South American mountain range (and available on Netflix on demand!). Similarly, I found The Hurt Locker well-crafted and stressful as hell to watch.

The psychological tension of Ingmar Bergman films might be of interest, also. Particularly The Hour of the Wolf.
posted by EmilyFlew at 10:36 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Duel! Simple yet so effective. And Mad Men, once you get to know the characters and develop an interest in them.

On the comedy front: Peep Show is hard to watch for me at times.
posted by mippy at 2:33 PM on January 3, 2011

A Simple Plan - Coen Brothers again, but also a great book filled with thrills and suspense, but the primary feeling is slow-building dread.

(The only dread you can slice thicker than this comes along with seeing Todd Solondz films when they premiere in the theaters, maybe 30-40 minutes in.)
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 5:24 PM on January 3, 2011

A Simple Plan is Sam Raimi, not the Coens.
posted by brundlefly at 5:37 PM on January 3, 2011

The film Pontypool - zombie-esque, tiny cast, one set, brilliantly performed and so very tense.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:55 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I found Herzog's Grizzly Man to be incredibly dread-inducing. You know from the beginning that Treadwell gets eaten, but you wait the whole film to get to that point. The scenes where Treadwell is treating gigantic grizzlies as if they were friendly neighborhood dogs are completely insane.
posted by benzenedream at 1:51 AM on January 4, 2011

Not a thriller but I got the same squirming feeling watching Requiem for a Dream that I did watching what little Breaking Bad I got through (didnt make it past a few episodes of S1, possibly because of that intense discomfort you describe).

At the end of that film my fiance and I agreed that it was brilliant but that we never wanted to watch it again.
posted by Ness at 3:12 AM on January 4, 2011

ack, good catch, Brundlefly - I should never answer AskMes while watching Coen brothers movies, alas!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 8:13 AM on January 4, 2011

I remember watching Holly Hunter in "The Piano" and knowing, the whole way through the movie, that something awful was going to happen.

My sister reported that she left the theater half way through because she didn't want the memory of whatever-it-might-be seared into her brain. She missed a lovely movie. But dread? Yeah, its got it. It's not a horror movie, or a jump out from a dark corner scary, but really, it's dread-full.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:39 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Abandoned film recommendation thread? Don't mind if I do!

Just about any film by Michael Haneke (as mentioned many times above), but especially Le temps du loup. It's kind of like The Road, and it's pretty much solid dread. Also, pretty much anything by the Dardenne brothers, whose work is very similar to Haneke's.

A couple of war films: Die Brücke, Idi i smotri.

Le trou is a good old prison escape film, and pretty much the best one I've ever seen.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:47 AM on February 26, 2011

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