The 12 Best Psychological Horror Movies, Twisted and Disturbed

What’s scarier than aliens, slashers, and monsters? Sometimes, the greatest horrors are those that warp your mind and twist your sanity.

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Horror is (often) a famously predictable genre, full of ghosts and jump scares and “twists” we can see coming a mile away. Psychological horror, on the other hand, is a little less clear-cut.

It’s not the aliens or monsters or slashers that make psychological horror so twisted and disturbing—it’s the characters and how they get trapped in warped mind games and suffer through terrifying delusions.

Whether because they’re under the influence of paranormal forces, satanic folklores, or severe mental illness, these movies take deep dives into the dark and twisted psyches of their characters.

Here are our picks for the best psychological horror movies worth watching if you want to see twisted, disturbed, and troubled characters in horrible situations.

12. Secret Window (2004)

Alone… in a lakeside cabin… at night. Now that’s just asking for trouble. Johnny Depp stars as the depressed writer Mort Rainey, who retreats to an isolated cabin after catching his wife having an affair.

But his solitude doesn’t last long when an angry farmer arrives, claiming that Mort has plagiarized his manuscript. John Shooter (played by John Turturro) doesn’t go quietly into that good night; instead, he pesters Mort with increasing violence.

Full of darkness, death, and twists, Secret Window is a great introduction to the psychological horror genre. David Koepp’s crowd-pleaser is based on the 1990 novella Secret Window, Secret Garden by Stephen King, which pretty much speaks for itself.

11. A Cure for Wellness (2016)

Who knew a spa could be such a scary place? Gore Verbinski’s mystery horror takes place at a luxury wellness hotel, where a tightly-wound executive is sent to fetch his company’s CEO.

However, Lockhart (played by Dane DeHaan) finds himself unable to leave when a car accident puts him in a leg cast.

A Cure for Wellness is deeply unsettling; the more medicine Lockhart takes, the sicker and more paranoid he becomes. Think Shutter Island but with more horror than thriller.

Striking cinematography that contrasts the sweeping Swiss Alps with bleak laboratories makes A Cure for Wellness a feast for the eyes. A must-watch for any fan of the Gothic style!

10. The Witch (2015)

Director Robert Eggers and Anya Taylor-Joy are two names you’ll see a lot on this list. The latter stars as Thomasin, the eldest daughter of an English settler in mid-17th century New England.

When her baby brother vanishes under her watch, Thomasin is accused of witchcraft by her own family. Satanic conspiracies and paranoia envelope the family, who’s thrown into a crisis of faith and loyalty.

Eggers’ folk horror is full of eerie atmospherics and strange religious imagery. The characters are pressured in their psychology, distrusting even their own family members in this witch-fearing Puritan society.

A slow burner full of interpretation, you might want to watch The Witch with the lights on.

9. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

Adrian Lyne directs this spine-tingling horror, which was later remade by David M. Rosenthal in 2019. But for this list, we’re sticking to the original—the one which heavily influenced modern-day video game effects.

Jacob Singer (played by Tim Robbins) is subject to incessant, fragmented flashbacks from his days in the Vietnam War. We aren’t just talking your usual war visions of bombs and guns—there are faceless figures, demons, and weird tentacles.

Are they really there? Or is it all hallucinations? Jacob’s troubled past and instability have both himself and the viewer questioning his reality. A wholly original storyline littered with surreal imagery, Jacob’s Ladder expertly blends the puzzle-movie genre with ghostly psychological horror.

8. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

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On its surface, We Need to Talk About Kevin doesn’t look much like a horror—just really, really weird.

But dig a little deeper and you’ll find the psychological torment of Eva (played by Tilda Swinton) by her son Kevin (played by Ezra Miller) is deeply and horrifyingly disturbing. This Kevin is a complete sociopath.

As he spends his adult years in prison, Eva looks back on the memories of her son’s childhood—memories which should be sweetly nostalgic, but instead are full of tantrums, mischief, and manipulation.

Director Lynne Ramsay embeds elements of the horror genre in her highly successful psychological thriller, praised for its strong performances, symbolic use of color, and smartly written storyline.

7. Split (2016)

Having dissociative identity disorder doesn’t automatically make you a psycho… but it does when one of those identities is homicidal. M. Night Shyamalan is famed for his hit-or-miss horrors, and Split is definitely a hit.

James McAvoy gives an incredible performance as Kevin (and Barry and Dennis and Patricia and Hedwig and Jade… the list goes on) who has 24 alter-egos that McAvoy seamlessly switches between throughout the movie. That alone is engrossing to watch.

When one of Kevin’s personas kidnaps three girls and chains them in his basement, Casey (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) decides to play his mental illness against him. There’s just one persona Casey doesn’t want to meet, who goes by the name “The Beast.”

The psychological warfare between Casey and Kevin—and Kevin with himself—make Split utterly absorbing.

6. Black Swan (2010)

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A doppelganger is already pretty creepy, but even more so when it has red eyes and scratch marks everywhere. Darren Aronofsky’s obsessed-artist horror film was an instant hit, winning five Oscars and going down as a film buff classic for the ages.

Natalie Portman stars as performer Nina, who’s given the role of the White Swan. Opposite her is talented newcomer Lily (played by Mila Kunis) as the Black Swan.

Friction and pressure come not only from the physically demanding art of ballet, but the immensely competitive Lily. Hallucinations and doppelgangers plague Nina’s waking hours, and we begin to wonder which horrors are real and which are in her head.

The idea for Black Swan was spawned from the legendary Russian ballet Swan Lake (which was a surprising failure back in 1875) as Aronofsky pondered the idea of a performer haunted by her understudy.

5. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

Yorgos Lanthimos has an extremely unique style—one that perfectly fits the psychological horror genre. It’s offbeat and awkward, but not in a funny Coen brothers kind of way; more in a menacing, is-that-guy-about-to-kill-someone kind of way. And the cinematography is stylish!

Colin Farrell plays surgeon Steven Murphy in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, who invites young Martin (played by Barry Keoghan) to dinner as his stand-in father figure. But Steven quickly comes to regret this as Martin’s strange behavior grows more and more sinister.

Steven’s weird-yet-mundane suburban life is pulled out from under him when Martin prophesizes that his family will die horrible deaths. Bleak, chilling, and wholly ominous, The Killing of a Sacred Deer will have you frowning and squirming in your seat.

4. Midsommar (2019)

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Cultish folklore meets psychological horror in Ari Aster’s polished A24 flick Midsommar. When Dani (played by Florence Pugh) finds her relationship strained due to the mental trauma of her past, the couple embark on a trip to Sweden.

The free-loving hippie vibes of the commune turn out to be a Scandinavian pagan cult, where sacrifices, mushroom trips, and weird mating rituals only pile more trauma onto Dani’s life.

What’s most remarkable about Midsommar—aside from its superb acting—is the visual experience of being in such a mythical, trippy cult.

The beauty of the Swedish countryside is matched by its beautiful cinematography, which uses lights and the color white to unsettle the viewer (rather than the usual shadows and darkness).

We even get a POV experience of magic mushrooms, which is pretty disquieting to watch on a huge theater screen!

3. Last Night in Soho (2021)

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It’s Anya Taylor-Joy again, this time as the seductive 1960s singer Sandie, who takes over the body of Eloise (played by Thomasin McKenzie) in her dreams—or should we say nightmares.

When the London student life isn’t quite what Eloise expected, she escapes to the fantasy world of her dreams. There, she travels back to the swinging 60s in awe of the fashion, music, and night life.

But when Sandie’s life begins to crumble, Eloise wonders if they’re really just dreams or horrible visions from a real girl’s life. Sandie’s hellish existence amid the seedy streets of midnight Soho—and Eloise’s isolated existence as a student—begin to blur together.

We’re called to question what’s real and what’s imagined, what’s past and what’s present. Edgar Wright directs this dazzling mystery horror that was recently released in cinemas, so catch it while you still can!

2. The Shining (1980)

The Shining is the quintessential psychological horror classic, adapted by Stanley Kubrick from Stephen King’s 1977 novel.

King and Kubrick made an awesomely eerie pair, with The Shining going on to influence cinema for decades to come. Take a journey into a spiralling mind of madness, starring Jack Nicholson as the disturbed caretaker Jack Torrance.

When Jack takes his family to live in an isolated hotel, his mind begins to deteriorate into a homicidal fury. His son, meanwhile, believes he can telepathically communicate with the dead.

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”—and Jack’s idea of fun turns out to be axe-murdering. Jack’s tormented psyche is reflected in the geographical mapping of the hotel, with twisting mazes and darkening night. A true atmospheric masterpiece, perfect for any film lover!

1. The Lighthouse (2019)

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While Thomas Wake (played by Willem Dadoe) drinks and rants through the night in strange sailor dialect, Ephraim Winslow (played by Robert Pattinson) carries out the taxing jobs that Thomas would rather avoid.

Set in 1890s New England, the two lighthouse keepers live a spookily isolated life where storms rage and mythical beings wash up on shore.

Robert Eggers directs this visually stunning indie horror, filmed in grainy black-and-white with a square ratio. If you can’t handle wacky avant-garde movies, maybe don’t tune into this one. But if you can, you’ll be in for quite a treat!

The Lighthouse is a modern take on Edgar Allan Poe’s unfinished 1849 story The Light-House, full of period horror and whimsical mythology.

30 Days of Modern Geeky Movies

Are you bored and in need of movies to watch? Here at whatNerd, we’ve seen a lot of geeky movies—sci-fi movies, fantasy movies, thriller movies, you name it!

And while a lot of them were pretty forgettable, a few of them stand out as classic geeky movies that everyone should definitely watch. Check out our 30 favorite modern geeky movies.

All of these movies are from 2000 or later, and there are NO superhero movies on our list! Download the printable PDF below and see how many you can watch in the next 30 days:

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