Though a good cinematic thriller needs to scare you at least a few times, what often ends up separating the ones that really stick with you and those that fade away is how effective they are at creating a sustained atmosphere of good stress for you to live in as you watch their stories unfold. This strangely enjoyable stress can be hard to describe, and a bit tricky to seek out, but when you encounter it, it’s unmistakable.
Though this brand of good stress is unsettling to sit with, it works to intensify horror and thriller films’ ability to tap into your emotions. Whatever guards you try to put up against a movie’s attempts to frighten you with jump scares or gory close-ups, good stress subverts by turning everything about the narrative into its own kind of pervasive terror that lingers well after the end credits start rolling.
In small doses, good cinematic stress can be just the thing to snap you out of a funk—and remind you why it’s always worth seeking out features that wander off the beaten path of sights and sounds that are every bit as haunting as the performances being delivered. With fall officially upon us once again, it’s high time to break out the good stress movies to set the mood for whatever spooky nonsense October has in store. Here’s a solid list of features to dig into if and when the mood strikes.