You know how some horror movies just aren't scary? How they just can't inspire any sense of dread or terror, no matter how hard they try? Well, sometimes the opposite can happen!
There are many non-horror movies that are so good at developing characters and establishing moods that they end up being quite creepy and dreadful, sucking you into a world of disturbing psyches, unusual behaviors, and eerie atmospheres.
If you want to be creeped out but not in a scary way, here are our picks for the best low-key creepy movies that aren't horrors. They're just dramas and thrillers done incredibly well.
10. Little Joe (2019)
M. Night Shyamalan has made some excellent horrors throughout his career, including The Sixth Sense, Split, and Signs. But one of his most ridiculed films was The Happening, starring Mark Wahlberg up against the most dangerous villain of all... a light breeze.
But in 2019, director Jessica Hausner proved that you actually can make a half-decent villain out of something ordinary and unthreatening.
In her recent sci-fi movie Little Joe, a plant is the sinister monster that characters come to fear—a genetically engineered flower with the power to influence its owners. It may sound silly, but Hausner's slow-paced drama really does make you hate this blood-colored plant.
Emily Beecham is one of the breeders behind this newly synthesized plant pet designed to elevate the mood of whomever cares for it. However, when she sneaks one home as a gift for her son, she realizes that it can turn humans against each other.
9. Take Shelter (2011)
With Take Shelter, director Jeff Nichols successfully made viewers fear the power of the wind—a wind that's more of a deadly storm than a gentle summer breeze rustling through the trees.
But the biggest question facing viewers as they watch Take Shelter isn't whether the characters will survive the storm. It's whether the storm is even real. Yeah, this movie gets you thinking.
Michael Shannon perfectly portrays the protagonist's transition between brooding man-of-few-words to screaming madman. The fact that his mother has schizophrenia means his own apocalyptic visions are likely just paranoia and not reality... right?
But Take Shelter is constructed in such a way that we also question the validity of his nightmares, putting us constantly on edge about the graying clouds overhead.
The ambiguous conclusion leaves us hanging on a cliff between the real and the imagined, wondering whether we were right to dread the darkening skies alongside Curtis.
8. Children of Men (2006)
You could argue that most apocalypse movies should be scary in some way, as long as they're done right. But not all apocalypse movies are, and many of them fall short of the creepiness in Children of Men.
Alfonso Cuarón's dingy sci-fi film takes place in 2027 when humanity has become completely infertile, plunging society into a dystopia. With extinction on the horizon, society falls apart at the seams.
The UK is one of the only governments left standing, fighting off immigration in a prison-like world of guns and rubble. In this world, cynical ex-activist Theo (played by Clive Owen) is tasked with escorting a young woman who is miraculously pregnant after 18 sterile years.
Cuarón scatters his gloomy drama with religious imagery, violence, and the deadly powers human can unleash when faced with crisis. Based on P. D. James' 1992 novel, Children of Men will leave you with mixed feelings of faith and hopelessness for mankind's fate.
7. Black Swan (2010)
Hallucinations can be scary, especially when they consist of an evil red-eyed doppelgänger who haunts your every move. Darren Aronofsky's psychological thriller Black Swan taps into our fear of the uncanny, using old folklore as inspiration for Nina's devilish double.
Brilliantly played by Natalie Portman, Nina is an aspiring dancer who works herself to the bone at a New York City ballet company.
Pressured by her vicarious mother and demanding teacher, Nina successfully lands the leading role in her upcoming dance Swan Lake. However, when her competition starts to outperform her, Nina slowly spirals into madness.
Black Swan is one of those rare, mysterious movies that never over-explains itself as it eloquently explores the murky depths of mental illness. It's never quite clear what's real and what's imagined, resulting in a creepiness that slowly builds throughout the film.
6. Foxcatcher (2014)
After watching Steve Carell in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, you probably wouldn't believe he could play a truly creepy psychopath. But in 2014, Carell shocked viewers with his sinister performance as a perverse philanthropist who's obsessed with wrestling.
Foxcatcher didn't only have Carell in an unusual role, but also Channing Tatum. In this film, we get to see a new kind of Channing Tatum who isn't a stripper or comedian.
When John du Pont (played by Steve Carell) sponsors a promising new wrestler, their relationship takes a dark turn. We won't spoil the ending for you, but don't expect any driving off into the sunset.
What's most unsettling is that Foxcatcher is based on a true story. The makeup department really put in their best to turn Carell into the real-life sports villain, whose performance was critically acclaimed.
5. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
We could have put most of Yorgos Lanthimos' filmography on this list due to his darkly comic style, but The Killing of a Sacred Deer is his most perturbing film as it leans into a sort of silent awkwardness.
The psychological thriller was inspired by the ancient Greek tragedy Iphigenia in Aulis by Euripides. Lanthimos' obscure diegesis is distinct for its cool palettes and stiff, almost robotic characters, which all adds to the general feeling that something isn't quite right in this film.
Colin Farrell stars as Steven, a cardiothoracic surgeon in Cincinnati. He meets a young boy (played by Barry Keoghan) at a diner, who becomes an unexpected acquaintance in his ordinary life—one he'll soon regret.
For any grown man to befriend a random teenage boy is a red flag, but it's actually the boy who's the creepy one this time. Steven stands in for Martin's lost father figure, but as his demands for Steven's time grows larger, so too does the spooky atmosphere.
4. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
A strange title for a strange film, based on the 2003 novel by Lionel Shriver. We Need to Talk About Kevin explores an important question: Can you really love a psychopath?
Tilda Swinton gives a startling performance as the mother of an insane criminal, whose aggressive behavior has been draining her since his birth. Having children is already tough and time-consuming, but multiplied many times over when that child is mentally ill and violent.
What makes things even worse for Eva (played by Tilda Swinton) is the fact that Kevin only seems to torment her. When he's with his father, he's nothing but love and cuddles.
As Eva becomes increasingly frustrated with Kevin's suffocating antics, so do we. Director Lynne Ramsay sucks us into her nihilistic world that's saturated in red. Ezra Miller, Khatchadourian Jasper Newell, and Rocky Duer portray Kevin at different ages throughout his life.
3. Coraline (2009)
Coraline is arguably the creepiest kids' film out there, taking us to a gothic alternate world where children have buttons sewn over their eyes. If it weren't an animation, we're sure Coraline would have an R rating.
Dakota Fanning voices the angsty Coraline Jones, who moves to a dingy Oregon apartment with her negligent workaholic parents. Kicking about the house, bored and friendless, Coraline stumbles into a portal that leads to another nearly-identical universe.
The only difference? Her parents in the alternate world shower her with attention, presents, feasts, and songs, plus cozy lighting that replaces the gloomy darkness. Also, her "other" parents have buttons for eyes.
Coraline probably isn't the best choice for sensitive or squeamish children. Despite all the cryptic warnings she receives, Coraline continues to visit her personalized paradise—but at what cost?
2. Donnie Darko (2001)
Though Jake Gyllenhaal had already made his starring role debut in October Sky, it was Donnie Darko that launched him to fame. Directed by Richard Kelly, Donnie Darko is one of the biggest cult movies out there, following a surreal sort of dream logic that circles back on itself.
It might take a few viewings to fully understand Kelly's psychological sci-fi film in which Donnie sleepwalks through his suburban life.
Donnie isn't just depressed, but he also hallucinates a demonic rabbit called Frank. As it turns out, bunnies can be quite creepy—especially when they're telling you the world will end in exactly 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds.
Donnie constantly finds himself waking up in unfamiliar places, stirring up all kinds of criminal mischief while fast asleep. Frank has that similarly menacing voice we hear from HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. But is it a voice whose warnings we can trust?
1. Parasite (2019)
Cinephiles rejoiced when Parasite won the 2020 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. Why was it so good? It's not just the carefully structured narrative, symbolic images, and brilliant performances, but the fact you don't see any of it coming!
If you have a basement, you might not want to go down there after watching Bong Joon-ho's acclaimed black comedy. Characters are pushed to their absolute limit in Bong's polished exploration of class division in South Korea (or anywhere, really).
The premise follows a poor South Korean family who infiltrate a wealthy household, each working as different staff members—tutor, driver, servants, etc—and pretending not to know each other. But in the end, they get a lot more than they bargained for.