More like The Descent, less like The Shining
August 15, 2019 8:05 PM   Subscribe

Scary or thriller movies minus the ghost children, exorcisms and torture?

I generally don't care to watch much horror/thrillers, but I've been getting a little itch for it lately. There's a ton out there but much of it includes elements that I am not interested in or don't have the stomach for. Movies like the Saw franchise, Paranormal Activity, and anything with little kid ghosts and creepy bathtubs are too stressful and not particularly fun.

The movies I've enjoyed in these genres are The Descent and (as terrible as this movie is) Sanctum. Also Alien and Cloverfield (I did not like Cloverfield Paradox though). I think it's the adventure and survival element that makes these more enjoyable for me.

Any ideas? I'm sure I'm missing some gems! I have Netflix and Amazon Prime and Hulu.
posted by sweetpotato to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Pontypool. The less you know going in the better. In short, it's a horror/thriller about a group of people working at a tiny radio station in Pontypool, Canada. People start calling into the station about some mysterious event happening in the town. Tension ratchets from there.
posted by acidnova at 8:20 PM on August 15, 2019 [11 favorites]

I'm not a big horror/thriller fan, either, but I really enjoyed Cabin in the Woods. And if you're okay with good-bad movies, how about Deep Blue Sea? (Which, btw, was recently featured in a fun post on the blue but if you don't want any spoilers and don't know anything about the movie, hold off on looking for it until after you watch the movie).

Anyhoo, both of those movies come to mind when I think 'adventure/survival,' and I don't recall creepy child ghosts or bathtubs in either.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:29 PM on August 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Can confirm: do not read anything about Pontypool, or Cabin for that matter.
posted by aramaic at 8:33 PM on August 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Dog Soldiers
Pitch Black
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 8:44 PM on August 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

My primary suggestion isn't a horror movie but rather a way to watch them with a lot less stress: Where's the Jump? offers guides to hundreds of horror films and their jump scares. It's spoilery, but if you turn off descriptions, it's just a list of timestamps to keep an eye on as you watch--IME effective for making a horror film into an atmospheric adventure.

Anyway, along the lines of Alien (rated 2.5 stars for jump scares), Attack the Block is a fun alien invasion story rated only 3 stars in terms of jump scares.
posted by Wobbuffet at 8:59 PM on August 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

If The Shining hasn't totally put you off Stephen King adaptations, I'd suggest the 1983 adaptation of the King novel I like best: The Dead Zone.

Starring Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen; thrilling and deeply affecting, but never that scary; available from YouTube for ~$3.
posted by jamjam at 9:16 PM on August 15, 2019

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. (horror comedy.)

Seconding Pitch Black, Deep Blue Sea, Attack the Block, and Dog Soldiers (directed by Neil Marshall, who did The Descent, and while less horror more thriller you could also check out his Doomsday and Centurion.)

Piranha (both the original 1978 version and the 2010 remake, which is technically called "Pirahna 3D")

Generally browsing the "Creature Features" genre (as it's labeled in Netflix) should get you some potential flicks.

I dunno if I'd call it horror/thriller, but if you want the best damn adventure/survival move ever you want Mad Max: Fury Road.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:18 PM on August 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

It Follows.
posted by sacrifix at 9:38 PM on August 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

N'thing Attack the Block. Bonus: Jodie Whittaker before she was the Doctor and John Boyega before he was Finn.
posted by acidnova at 9:39 PM on August 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

How do you feel about sharks? I love survival horror/thriller and enjoyed 47 Metres Down and The Shallows.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 9:46 PM on August 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

posted by bluecore at 10:03 PM on August 15, 2019

Thriller more than horror, but Open Water will definitely scratch the survival thriller itch.
posted by holborne at 10:03 PM on August 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

A Perfect Getaway
+ 1 Cabin in the Woods, Deep Blue Sea, Pitch Black
posted by Crystalinne at 10:31 PM on August 15, 2019


Annihilation most certainly has torturous, hard-to-watch, bloody scenes.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:17 PM on August 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

• A Quiet Place
• Black mirror episodes Metalhead (S04) and Hated in the Nation (S03)
• The Host (Gwoemul, Korean)
• The Thing (1982 version. If you liked Alien you might like this, but it is stressful!)
• Jaws
• The Birds
• The Night of the Hunter
posted by riddley at 1:11 AM on August 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm always on the lookout for scary movies that fit constraints similar to yours, specifically, no vampires, zombies, ghosts because I'm not afraid of things that don't exist; no/minimal jump scares (too cheap); no torture, gratuitous violence, minimal/no scenes of characters in physical pain; minimal examples of scares based on characters being incomprehensibly stupid (going alone into the dark basement). This tends to rule out anything labeled "horror", leaving me with thrillers, sci-fi, and impending-end-of-the-world stories. A few off the top of my head:

Seconding It Follows, The Night of the Hunter, The Birds, A Quiet Place.

Birdbox fits your criteria, but I found it too stupid to recommend.

The Vanishing
Get Out
Perfect Sense
How it Ends
The Road (very good, also very, very bleak)
I am Mother
The Endless

Will add more if I can track down my list of relevant movies.
posted by she's not there at 4:02 AM on August 16, 2019

Take Shelter
posted by she's not there at 4:20 AM on August 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

10 Cloverfield Lane
It Follows
Get Out
Poltergeist, the one from the 80s
The Witch

The Insidious movies are all pretty dumb, but the protagonist across the series is a woman in her 70s and that's pretty rad.
posted by phunniemee at 4:55 AM on August 16, 2019

The Dyatlov Pass Incident
posted by gideonfrog at 5:02 AM on August 16, 2019

The Edge - men vs men, men vs bear survival/revenge thriller. Not an all-time classic, but some great tension.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 6:29 AM on August 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh, Jaws, of course, if you've never seen it. A masterpiece of tension based on showing a little and letting the imagination do the rest. A little gory, but it gets into survival territory. Brilliantly directed.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 6:34 AM on August 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Shaun of the Dead
Jennifer's Body
Always be watching Alien, it's the best. Aliens isn't bad either.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:30 AM on August 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Pitch Black is one of my favorite movies of all time and I'm so happy to see it getting so much love here. (Another vote for Pitch Black, btw.)

I really liked 28 Days Later for this kind of survival horror tension feel if you're not zombie'd out. Maybe Predator as well?

This might be a little too slasher-y for your criteria, but I LOVED You're Next and I think it would check a lot of your boxes. Classic home invasion movie but with a fresh take that I will say no more about because it's better not to know ahead of time.

Also: kind of an edge case, but I really enjoyed Exam. It all more or less takes place in a single room, but they do some great dystopian future world building and it's a solid thriller. It used to be on Netflix, but IDK if it still is.
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:18 AM on August 16, 2019

The ritual
yess Attack the block was great - as well as the quiet place.
posted by speakeasy at 9:44 AM on August 16, 2019

I liked Frozen (not that Frozen!). Nothing supernatural and just plausible enough to be really distressing.
posted by orrnyereg at 9:47 AM on August 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Not sure if this is enough of a thriller, but I liked The Martian for this. Also seconding Fury Road.
posted by expialidocious at 10:48 AM on August 16, 2019

Ooh, check out As Above, So Below. It's worth watching just for the shots in the French Catacombs.
posted by hydra77 at 1:55 PM on August 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

It’s not a horror movie, but it’s damned suspenseful with minimal blood and guts, IIRC: Wait Until Dark, featuring a blinnd Audrey Hepburn against the bad guys.
posted by SLC Mom at 3:05 PM on August 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Everest is a different kind of movie than The Descent, but I kind of group them in a loose way.
posted by rhizome at 3:51 PM on August 16, 2019

'Sorcerer' (1977) by William Freidkin is one of my fave existential thrillers. It's about desperate men driving trucks loaded with nitroglycerin through the jungle.
posted by ovvl at 5:41 PM on August 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Interesting, that must be a remake of The Wages of Fear, though Wikipedia says Friedkin says it's just an alternate adaptation of the book. Regardless, the French one is great!
posted by rhizome at 7:19 PM on August 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Mothman Prophecies. I’m allergic to horror, and this movie handily walks the line of being interesting and creepy without being terrifying. Good performances by Richard Gere, Laura Linney and Will Patton.
posted by Autumnheart at 8:29 PM on August 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Sorcerer is a remake of Wages of Fear, they're both great, together they would make a swell double bill. Sorcerer has more of this tingling quasi-horror-film vibe with spacey music & arty camera work. They both have wierd nail-biting stunt sequences driving big trucks over flimsy bridges.
posted by ovvl at 9:24 PM on August 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

47 Meters Down (2017)
Bait (2012)
Dark Tide (2012)
Jaws (1975)
Open Water (2003)
The Reef (2010)
The Shallows (2016)
Crocodiles / alligators / Komodo dragons:
Black Water (2007)
Primeval (2007)
Rogue (2007)
Komodo (1999)
Aquatic mayhem:
The Bay (2012)
Leviathan (1989)
Backcountry (2014)
The Birds (1963)
The Breed (2006)
The Edge (1997)
The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)
The Grey (2011)
Grizzly (1976)
Maneater (2007)
Prey (2007)
The Cave (2005)
Cloverfield (2008)
The Ruins (2008)
Outer space:
Alien (1979)
Apollo 18 (2011)
Life (2017)

I can also recommend both Descent (2005) and Descent 2 (2009).
posted by TrishaU at 1:27 AM on August 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Fly (David Cronenberg version 1986) is, in my opinion, one of the best horror films ever made.
posted by leibniz at 2:33 AM on August 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Definitely Pandorum. It's pretty much The Descent in space
posted by Redhush at 7:05 AM on August 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thank you for all the suggestions, I've seen some of these but many are new to me, and I am making my through these and loving it!!!

OMG how have I never watched Cabin in the Woods!? So fun. I'm impatiently waiting for the weekend so my husband and I can watch Pontypool together.

Also - I thought I'd throw in another suggestion for those not totally zombie'd out: World War Z! I forgot to mention it before but it's one of my favorite of the genre.
posted by sweetpotato at 6:18 PM on August 29, 2019

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