If you’ve got a passion for intrigue, excitement and twisty-turny plots in cinema, then you’re doing yourself a real disservice if you rarely look beyond Hollywood for your thriller fix.
Over the past few years some of the world’s most compelling and original edge-of-the-seat movies have been created outside of the English-speaking industry, and it would be absolutely crazy to let a few subtitles put you off.
From horror to crime to revenge, here are seven foreign-language thrillers released in recent times that you probably won’t have seen – but definitely should.
The Squad (2011)
Sent to investigate a mysterious military outpost after their superiors lose contact with it, a squad of Columbian soldiers find far more than they bargained for inside.
Jaime Osorio Marquez’s intense directorial debut is a psychological onslaught; tensions arising from personality clashes, racism and past horrors simmering among the paranoid troops long before they even set foot in the complex. The fog-shrouded mountain setting is suitably eerie, and it’s as disturbing for its commentary on civil war atrocities as it is for its descent into madness and copious, visceral shocks.
Lesson Of The Evil (2012)
To the outside world, popular teacher Seiji is a charismatic, successful and considerate member of his high school’s staff. In reality however, he’s a despicable warped psychopath who specialises in making murders look like accidents or suicides; and is adept at manipulating those around him to his own twisted ends.
From Cronenbergian hallucination sequences to nail-biting suspense scenes, this flick has it all. Director Takashi Miike is hardly known for his restraint, and the Japanese auteur’s decision to shift into a relentless, gaudy slasher bloodbath in the final section is arguably tasteless and uninspired. But the fascinating protagonist is never anything less than (horrifically) compelling – and the repeated use of a skin-crawling ‘Mack The Knife’ cover is wonderfully creepy.
Expertly veering from violent crime flick to darkly comic farce (one scene involving a tractor will have you in stitches), this inspired adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s novel has far more colour and flair than your average Nordic noir.
The film revolves around high-flying but neurotic recruitment consultant Roger, who helps pay for his extravagant lifestyle by stealing expensive artwork on the side. One tangle with the wrong person later, and he finds himself – quite literally – in the sh*t. You’ll be hard-pressed to have any idea where the mad-cap story will go to next, and its engaging characters and gleefully escalating plot strike just the right balance of lunacy, seriousness, and smart storytelling.
Andrey Zvyagintsev’s award-winning tale of corruption, deprivation and discord in a remote Russian town revolves around one man’s Kafka-esque struggles when a vile local politician moves to seize his land and property.
Shot with cinematography at once bleak and beautiful, and accompanied in occasional bursts by a stunning Philip Glass score, the pressure cooker nature of the drama keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout; as stark realities, uncomfortable revelations and furious outbursts lead you on the emotional rollercoaster of a lifetime. Powerful stuff.
The House At The End Of Time (2013)
This clever, slow-burning Venezuelan chiller offers an inspired twist on the traditional haunted house formula, as a tormented mother battles to solve the mystery of what happened to her family decades earlier.
Can you imagine what it would be like to be seemingly plagued by ghosts, find your husband murdered, watch your son disappear into nothing before your very eyes, and then be blamed for their fates? That’s the intriguing premise of The House At The End Of Time. And that’s just the first ten minutes.
Big Bad Wolves (2013)
After a young schoolgirl is abducted and murdered, a reckless Israeli police officer and the father of the victim both decide, independently of one another, to kidnap and interrogate the man they believe to be responsible.
What follows is by turns darkly funny, consistently surprising and occasionally shocking; shifting from a suspenseful opening act to a series of brilliantly written and acted scenes that feel almost like an intimate, high quality stage play. Exploring everything from big moral questions to ethnic relations between the nation’s Arabs and Jews, it’s an absorbing slice of tongue-in-cheek drama with some superb reveals.
The Man From Nowhere (2010)
South Korea is justly renowned for its top-notch revenge sagas and explosive action fests – and this extraordinary, stylish depiction of one man’s rampage through the foul criminal underworld is possibly the best ‘badass with a secret past’ saga ever made.
When a gang of nasty, ruthless crooks kidnap the little daughter of a drug addict who stole from them, the pawn shop owner next door blazes a trail of devastation through their murky empire. There are memorable action sequences galore, and the fight choreography is simply breathtaking. Taken eat your heart out.