Just like Grimms’ fairy tales, Yuppies in Peril movies serve as salutary lessons to make us think twice about that friendly neighbour, the quiet guy at work, the seductive temptress. When everything in your life is going swimmingly, letting the wrong person in can cost you dearly.
The formulas that proved so thrilling in the 1980s and 90s have been replicated until they almost became self-parodying. Shorthand has developed: anyone willing to put an injured animal ‘out of its misery’ will turn out to be a heinous murderer. Our heroes’ squeaky-voiced children invariably suffer from chronic ailments (I’m waiting for the movie in which a masked kidnapper proves his depravity by giving a gluten and lactose intolerant child a cream bun).
Warning us of the everyday dangers found in moving house, dating, and making friends, here are 45 yuppies in peril movies from the 21st century.
45. The Roommate (2011)
Leighton Meester is still best known for playing Gossip Girl’s high school alpha bitch Blair Warldorf, so full-on psychoville isn’t too much of a stretch. She plays Rebecca, the superficially sweet college girl who becomes infatuated with her roommate Sara (Minka Kelly). Yes, it’s basically a junior version of Single White Female. But because this is the 21st century, we have more violence and some girl-on-girl action.
Teenagers often hang out with an identikit group of friends, so a SWF scenario feels more natural in this age group than with grown women. With the tagline “2,000 colleges. 8 million roommates. Which one will you get?” the movie could perhaps be a deliberate attempt to freak out freshman before their first term.
44. Meeting Evil (2012)
This bizarre film teeters on the edge of ‘serial killer teaches average schmuck to appreciate life’, but the morals get hazy when the mud-wrestling starts. It only made $525 at the box office, and boasts the stupidest hero ever (and for this genre, that’s really saying something).
John (Luke Wilson) is afraid to tell his wife he’s been fired and they’re going to lose their nice big house. Enter Richie (Samuel L. Jackson) who despite being creepy as hell right from the get-go, forges a fast friendship with John and then gets him tangled up in his killing spree (it’s like Bad Influence, but so odd that you keep expecting it to turn into Fight Club). John’s wife (Leslie Bibb) is terrifically bitchy, and the ever-charismatic Jackson makes this worth a watch – even if it’s frustrating when characters forget that CCTV cameras exist, or that dialling 911 is a thing.
43. Killing Me Softly (2002)
In this laugh-out-loud ‘erotic thriller’, Alice (Heather Graham) spots Adam (Joseph Fiennes) on the street. He’s all cheekbones and stubble and smouldering looks, so they go back to his place for some photogenic sex.Alice dumps her safe-but-dull boyfriend, and she and Adam quickly progress to marriage (making her name Alice Tallis, apparently for no other reason than amusing the writer). Adam’s sister Deborah (Natascha McElhone) is friendly, and all seems well. Except for the anonymous notes warning Alice about Adam. She already knows he has a violent streak but hey, she’s cool with it as long as it’s not directed at her. Oh, and a little erotic asphyxiation never hurt anyone, right?
As Alice investigates her husband there are some effectively tense scenes, but the quality takes a nosedive with an ending even more ludicrous than the rest of the film.
42. Irresistible (2006)
Artist Sophie (Susan Sarandon) is married to Craig (Sam Neill); they live with their two little girls in a pleasant Australian suburb, but something is bugging Sophie. Her house is weirding her out, as if someone is always there, watching her (this means trite scares, such as an iron PUFFING STEAM portentously, and the old ‘shoe poking out of a wardrobe’ trick we’ve all used in particularly intense games of hide-and-seek).
Worse luck, her husband has a new, attractive young colleague, Mara (a pre-fame Emily Blunt), who mentions that she recently lost her aid-worker best friend to a fire in an orphanage. She says things like “imagine what it must be like to burn to death” and generally gets Sophie’s spidey-senses tingling. But is Sophie really being stalked or is she losing it?
41. A Deadly Adoption (2015)
The trouble with daytime movies is that they’re so ridiculous, a spoof ends up indistinguishable from the real thing. Playing it remarkably straight, Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig star as Robert and Sarah Benson, parents to ‘Sully’, a little girl with the requisite illness (in this case, diabetes). Due to one of those movie accidents which somehow cause infertility, they plan to adopt in order to give her a sibling.
Enter a charming and pregnant young woman who has nowhere else to go but would be delighted to give them her baby. Nobody notices when she mentions how she’d love to raise children in a house just like theirs. Bridgette (Jessica Lowndes) also has her sights set on Robert, and the only person standing in her way is Sarah…
40. The Cottage (2012)
This screenplay couldn’t get any more random if it had been devised by several chimps using an Edgar Wallace plot wheel. It begins in conventional fashion; Chloe and Michael have a new baby as well as Michael’s two teen daughters. They rent out their guest house to Robert (David Arquette), who tells them he’s a romance novelist; before you can say “that escalated quickly” he’s showing his true colours.
Arquette makes a fun maniac, all nervy and jittery and accusing women of giving him ‘mixed signals’ by not deadbolting their doors. However, the teen daughters look so similar they made me wonder if I had a sudden case of face blindness, and as you’ll see if you delve into the surreal world of The Cottage, it’s quite important to know which is which.
39. Obsessed (2009)
Derek (Idris Elba) is a successful asset manager who earns megabucks, lives in a house with actual chandeliers and is married to Beyoncé. Life is perfect, until a temp called Lisa (Ali Larter) shows up and makes her interest (or is it OBSESSION?) clear. When voluntary seduction fails, she spikes his drink and pounces on him at a work conference.
But Lisa is not the only insane woman in his life; he’s also understandably terrified of his wife, whose jealous streak is deeper than her Southern accent. Basically it’s all just an excuse to get to a glorious fight between the two women. Beyoncé “goes medieval” as she puts it; she clearly took the role just so she’d be able to say lines like “You think you’re crazy? I’ll show you crazy. Just try me, bitch.” And who can blame her?
38. Firewall (2006)
Jack (Harrison Ford) is a banker targeted by Paul Bettany and his gang; his family is held hostage while he’s forced to break through the company’s security system and transfer a large ransom before being framed for various crimes. Unfortunately he and his wife Virginia Madsen are incredibly bad at making escape attempts, even though the amateurish criminals give them ample opportunity. (She even forgets that a car can be used as a weapon.) Add one child with a severe nut allergy and a cute doggy and you have the standard home invasion prototype.
Jack turns to his secretary (Mary Lynn Rajskub) for help and the movie becomes inexplicably comedic as they have car trouble, interrupt a church service, and Jack generally tumbles over a lot.
37. Swimfan (2002)
New girl Madison (Erika Christensen) has her sights set on Ben (Jesse Bradford) the star of the high school swimming team; luckily his girlfriend is boring and clingy so it’s not hard to seduce him. In a nutshell, this is teen Fatal Attraction, with swimming. Sadly, the more that derivative films try to up the ante, the further they drift from the quality of the original. Glenn Close’s character didn’t need a shocking backstory, and while she messed with people’s heads, today’s lady sociopaths go straight for the kill – literally.
It’s a movie where people swim whole lengths without noticing a dead body in the pool, framing someone for a crime is as simple as dressing up like them, and it’s extremely easy for murderers to escape from the police. Only Christensen’s screen-filling magnetism brings the quality up a notch.
36. No Good Deed (2014)
A violent killer called Colin (Idris Elba) is denied parole but escapes en route back to prison. First things first; he tracks down his cheating ex-fiancée (with predictable results) but shortly afterwards crashes his car and needs to call for a tow truck…
Meanwhile, we’re introduced to Terri (Taraji P. Henson) who has been left with the kids by her neglectful husband. When she opens the door to Colin, he gives every impression of being a nice guy who just needs to use the phone, full of polite ‘I’ll stay out here, you can shut the door’ reassurances. Terri’s pal Meg shows up and finds him mysterious and attractive… but not for long. It’s up to Terri to deal with Colin and his tricksy ways, but was her house a random choice, or is there method in his madness?
35. Careful What You Wish For (2015)
Isabel Lucas is Lena, a blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window. She and hubby Elliott (Dermot Mulroney) move in next door to the Martin family’s lake house. Teenage Doug (Nick Jonas) develops an inevitable crush on his new neighbour and to his delight the two start a torrid affair. After all, Elliott is foolish enough to leave his wife to her own devices, and Lena is the epitome of a glamorous trophy wife who married well and is now paying for it.
Doug is troubled by the way Lena’s husband treats her, not to mention the pressure of working for him. But when Elliott meets with an accident, it kicks off a series of events which become more and more unlikely, in an old-school film noir sort of way.
34. The House At The End Of The Street (2012)
Before her career was launched into the stratosphere by The Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence starred in this not-brilliant-but-quite-bonkers movie (the release date was delayed to cash in on her later success).
She plays 17-year-old Elissa, who has moved with her mum (Elizabeth Shue) to a lovely big house on the outskirts of a forest. Elissa quickly befriends the enigmatic, introverted teenage boy at the end of the street, who lives alone after his deranged sister murdered their parents. At least, that’s the story he’s sticking to. You can see where this is going, can’t you?
Jennifer Lawrence is great as always, and the film is much more a thriller than the straight-up horror you might expect from the trailer.
33. Passion (2012)
In this remake of 2010 French film Love Crime, Christine (Rachel McAdams) is the bitchy boss and Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) the employee who may not be as non-threatening as she first appears; not only does she have ideas worth stealing, but she’s also seeing Christine’s boyfriend on the side. She is whole-heartedly supported by her subordinate Dani (Karoline Herfurth, for my money the most striking presence in the movie) and it looks as if she’s going to need all the help she can get in this tale of betrayal and murder.
You’ll either love or hate the hyper-real effect Brian De Palma creates; it’s one of those films where people say “the director obviously went for odd, stilted scenes deliberately”.
If you want more proof that lesbian relationships always lead to murder, you might also enjoy Breaking The Girls (2013), a cross between Mean Girls and Strangers On A Train.
32. The Loft (2014)
Erik Van Looy directs a remake of his own successful 2008 Belgian film: five guys co-own a very swish apartment so they can cheat on their wives (I’m still not sure why a mysterious mortgage payment would be less conspicuous than a hotel bill, but there you go). However, their odious moral standards don’t go unrewarded; with a premise that has potential as a black comedy (actually, it sounds vaguely similar to 1998’s Very Bad Things), one day they find a dead woman handcuffed to the bed. As they’re the only ones who had access to the flat, one of them must be guilty – but who?
It’s a glossy film showing how the extremely rich do their cheating (rooftop swimming pools, apparently) and despite the dislikeable characters it has a couple of fun twists and is complete with a YIP battle to the death on a dark and stormy night.
31. Crush (2013)
Scott (Lucas Till) is one of those popular, athletic kids who has it all, including an admirer or two. His best friend Jules (Sarah Bolger) keeps trying to get into his pants, his teacher flirts with him, and quiet nerdy girl Bess (Crystal Reed) admires him from afar, fishing his discarded artwork out of the bin and writing him anonymous notes. She kind of creeps people out… but is she really trying to hurt any woman he gets close to?
I expected this movie to be a standard trashy yarn, a YIP for the facebook generation, and largely that’s what it is (although it turns into Misery-lite towards the end). But it’s raised above its humble origins via the performance from Reed, who perfectly embodies the crippling shyness of every emo girl who ever had an unlikely crush.
30. The Unknown Woman (2006)
Movie evildoers generally come from a horrible background which leaves them hungry for revenge or ruthless in their climb to success. The Unknown Woman is unusual because we see everything unfold from the ‘baddie’ point of view; Irena (Kseniya Rappoport) is determined to get a job with the Adacher family, by fair means or foul. Their current cleaner is an old lady who always takes the stairs, so one wet floor later, she’s in, and in true YIP villain style she bullies the little girl Tea into standing up for herself on the playground.
The salacious thrills of a YIP tend to translate to a cold feeling of dread in European movies, otherwise I’d be tempted to include Michael Haneke’s Hidden (2005) featuring a couple terrorised by a silent watcher sending them videos of their own house, and his 1997 horror Funny Games (a family holiday ruined by sadistic murderers).
29. Before I Go To Sleep (2014)
Nicole Kidman stars as Christine, whose memory disorder makes every day a blank page. Like a downbeat version of 50 First Dates, she wakes up next to her husband Ben (who leaves post-it notes around the house to explain her life to her), and visits a neurologist, Dr Nash (Mark Strong). But her video journal reveals that she’s keeping her progress secret from Ben (Colin Firth). Should she trust him, or her doctor?
The movie has a somewhat cheap, lacklustre quality, with dodgy acting from everyone but the three leads. It also suffers from the plot holes it inherited from the source novel (the kind you don’t care about when you can’t put it down): too much depends on Christine’s flashes of memory not revealing too much. Also, barring the odd violent outburst the bad guy behaves far more decently towards Christine than anyone else in her life.
28. The Boy Next Door (2015)
Jennifer Lopez does her best Mrs Robinson act as Claire, a classics teacher who’s been cheated on and needs a self-esteem boost. Unfortunately the method she chooses is sleeping with the cute teenage boy next door. Oops! She’s mortified to be a statutory rapist, but Noah (Ryan Guzman) remains unnervingly keen, plastering nude pictures of Claire all over her classroom (why not just respond “Ugh, photoshop”?).
Maybe it’s because I was slightly drunk when viewing it, but much of this movie struck me as hilarious, from the infamous “A first edition of The Iliad? Why, you shouldn’t have!” scene to the improvised innuendo of “I love your mom’s cookies”. Noah starts out as a decent person, but inexplicably becomes a crazed maniac, while Claire is extraordinarily lucky when it comes to finding secret lairs full of evidence, less lucky when it comes to remembering to lock doors.
27. Reasonable Doubt (2014)
Mitch (Dominic Cooper) has got it made; he’s a successful up-and-coming district attorney, he has a freakishly enormous house, a loving wife and a new baby. Until he makes the mistake of driving home when he’s had a skinful – and promptly knocks over a man in the road. Should he risk a DUI or a hit-and-run charge? He calls 911 and skedaddles, but is horrified when local garage worker Clinton (Samuel L. Jackson) gets the blame. Managing the court case is just the beginning of Mitch’s problems, as he realises that he and Clinton are now forever linked…
It’s not a perfect film; Mitch leaps to exactly the right conclusions with astonishing speed and for a DA he does an awful lot of highly illegal things. But it’s a satisfyingly suspenseful movie (as long as you avoid reading any spoilers first).
26. Cold Creek Manor (2003)
With a deceptive trailer (which makes it look like a movie about a haunted house) this is entertaining enough while you’re watching, but as soon as it’s finished (or as soon as you engage your brain, whichever comes first) you realise how silly it all is. However, it’s worth seeing purely for the hilariously overwrought scene where the entire family screams hysterically because there is one snake in every room.
The Tilson family (which includes Dennis Quaid, Sharon Stone and Kristen Stewart) have found a bargain house in the country; it’s still full of the previous family’s stuff, which gets them curious about what happened to them. One of the former residents (Stephen Dorff) likes to pop round as if it’s still his home, but despite his boundary issues they employ him to help with the renovations. Little do they know just how much he wants them out…
25. The Stepfather (2009)
How can I describe The Stepfather? It’s the story of a mother who marries her new man without making the most basic enquiries into his past. A film in which Amber Heard is rarely seen wearing more than a bikini. And being stabbed in the jugular or falling off a roof won’t slow you down, just as long as you’re evil.
Dylan Walsh is the bad man infiltrating a naive family who don’t watch America’s Most Wanted; Penn Badgley the teen whose suspicions are his mother’s only hope. It’s a thriller with some unintentionally hilarious moments, but if you like climactic fight scenes involving power saws (and who doesn’t?) it’ll be right up your street.
The theme of bad husbands with murderous double lives is also explored in Stephen King’s A Good Marriage (2014).
24. Perfect Stranger (2007)
Rowena (Halle Berry) is going undercover, working as a temp for advertising executive Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis). He has an eye for the ladies, and his most recent amour turned up dead, poisoned with belladonna. With the help of her friend Miles, Rowena means to prove that Harrison is a killer, but needs to get close to him first.
Halle Berry’s acting here errs on the side of melodramatic soap opera, but she looks stunning, as director James Foley rather tackily notes with all the close-ups of her many impressive body parts. Regrettably, he hasn’t solved the problem of how to make actors working on computers look good, so Rowena just reads aloud everything she types. On the plus side the script takes some unpredictable turns and we have the time-honoured YIP motif, a secret room with an eerie photographic shrine to the leading lady.
23. The Glass House (2001)
Teenage Ruby (Helen Hunt lookalike Leelee Sobieski) and her little brother are orphaned when their parents die in a car crash. They’re sent to live with some old family friends, Erin (Diane Lane) and Terry Glass (Stellan Skarsgård) in an achingly cool house in Malibu. But their new guardians quickly reveal a disquieting side to their all-American charm; as Terry says “With all the glass you can hear everything.” As well as spying, eavesdropping and being vaguely pervy, do they have designs on the kids’ inheritance?
Like many YIP movies, all the problems could be solved with a thorough police investigation about half an hour into the action, but it’s a fun watch. Followed by an even more ludicrous straight-to-video sequel Glass House: The Good Mother in 2006.
22. Lakeview Terrace (2008)
Maybe one day actors will be cast with no thought to their ethnicity (imagine that!) but sadly, despite our multicultural society, movies often feature an all-white cast unless the storyline is specifically race-related. In Lakeview Terrace, Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa (Kerry Washington) are an interracial couple, which upsets new neighbour Abel (Samuel L. Jackson), and his behaviour escalates from grumpy to horrifying.
Jackson has such a naturally commanding presence that he’s ideal for the role of a menacing and corrupt cop, but I suspect our heroes could have avoided much of the hassle by remaining resolutely friendly and cheerful no matter what Abel did next; nothing annoys people more when they’re trying to get a rise out of you.
21. The Resident (2011)
Juliet (Hilary Swank) finds a spacious, cheap new apartment and strikes up a flirtatious friendship with her landlord Max (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), but oh! He’s not the smiley, charming chap he appears to be. I’m not normally one to insist that Hollywood remakes are terrible, but in this case, the inspiration (2011’s Mientras Duermes) is vastly superior (this Spanish movie was in turn a reworking of Argentina’s El Propietario, 2008).
In some ways Juliet is quick off the mark (if I found myself sleeping through my alarm every morning, I’m not sure I’d immediately suspect that someone was sneaking into my apartment and drugging me). However, she fails to hear Max scurrying around, see him when he stands in a shadow, or (in a scene reminiscent of Wallace And Gromit) notice him peeping through a hole in the wall (not even a spoiler, seriously).
20. Trespass (2011)
Nicolas Cage is Kyle Miller, a businessman who deals in diamonds and can barely get off the phone to talk to his family. His neglected wife (Nicole Kidman) is having the usual conflicts with their teenage daughter (Liana Liberato), but the family find their everyday troubles pale into insignificance when their giant yuppie house is invaded by masked robbers. Knowing they’ll kill the family if they get what they want, Kyle refuses to play ball.
The discerning viewer may feel frustrated by the characters’ stupidity; given the opportunity to run, they never grasp the fact that by saying ”No, I won’t leave you!” to loved ones, they’re not actually helping as much as they would if they scarpered and got the police. By the end, you’re left feeling ‘Well, that didn’t have to be quite as difficult as it was…’
19. Enough (2002)
If JLo films are your secret pleasure (*raises hand*) you’re in for a treat – this one’s actually pretty good.Slim (Jennifer Lopez) marries Mitch (Billy Campbell); we get a hint of his domineering character from his bullish approach to buying a house, but Slim doesn’t mind his forcefulness when it works in her favour. Without much in the way of subtle build-up, they skip from being blissfully happy one minute, to him cheating and becoming violent all in one day.
The police aren’t helpful, so Slim does a midnight flit with her daughter, and an exciting chase ensues. More than once, in fact, because she makes all kind of rookie mistakes which enable her nasty ex to repeatedly track her down. Her lawyer rather unprofessionally tells her that nobody can help her now, so she decides to help herself, by… learning to box. Don’t laugh.
18. Derailed (2005)
Clive Owen plays Charles, an ad exec with a wife (Melissa George) and daughter (who OF COURSE has diabetes, because all YIP children do). They have the house, the two-career family and the studious kid – but when you have all the trappings of yuppiedom, diversions are often welcome.
When Charles meets Lucinda (Jennifer Aniston, in her first dark post-Friends role) the pair flirt their way to an affair. But disaster strikes when they’re victims of a crime while holed up in a hotel room together; in their desire for secrecy, they decide not to go to the police. When Charles is later threatened with exposure, he’s obliged to jump through some criminal hoops to pay off his blackmailers. But will that be the end of his troubles?
17. Unknown (2011)
Ignoring the fact that taxi drivers rarely look like Diane Kruger, this is a decent suspense movie in which Liam Neeson hooks up with not one but two blondes young enough to be his daughter.
Dr Martin Harris (Neeson) and his wife Liz (January Jones) have travelled to Berlin for a conference on biotechnology. After the taxi they’re riding in (driven by the aforementioned Kruger) is in an accident, Martin is comatose for several days. He wakes up in hospital alone, and when he tracks down his wife, she appears not to know who the hell he is. Even worse, there’s another man with his name badge. This nightmarish premise becomes even more complex as Martin struggles to untangle the truth from the lies in this entry into the ‘Am I going mad/who can I trust?’ subgenre of YIP.
16. Knock Knock (2015)
A remake of 1977’s Death Game (which also inspired the irresistibly titled Vicious And Nude in 1980), this stars Keanu Reeves as Evan, a married man seduced by two seemingly innocent young girls looking for shelter. But will the women (one of whom is named ‘Genesis’) be man’s downfall?
Played with gleeful craziness by Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas, they’re sexually powerful, confident, and terrifying in a way that only giggly girls can be. At face value, it’s a morality tale about infidelity. But is Evan really being punished for cheating on his wife? Or for letting women push him around? His wife rejects his sexual advances, nags him to get a haircut, and takes the kids to the beach without him on father’s day. Is it so surprising that he falls for the ego-stroking of girls fawning over his cool DJ skills?
Evidently the danger isn’t letting strangers in, it’s leaving your poor downtrodden hubby home alone in the first place.
15. The Guest (2014)
Shortly after losing their soldier son Caleb to the war in Afghanistan, the Peterson family are visited by David (Dan Stevens), who claims to have been Caleb’s best buddy. He says all the right things and they don’t hesitate in offering him a place to stay, but what’s going on under that charm? Like all sinister strangers he teaches the kids how to fight, and is a big fan of weapons. The family gradually begin to question who David really is when people start showing up dead…
Although the storyline shows every sign of being compiled by someone leafing through a list of urban legends, it has a more interesting explanation than your standard YIP. It also has a sly sense of humour, with a knowing wink to all the tropes and a fantastically ridiculous climax.
14. Flightplan (2005)
Yuppies shouldn’t travel; whether because foreign folk are inherently wicked and violent (No Escape, 2015) or because flight attendants are untrustworthy, as in Flightplan (airline unions actually called for a boycott of the film). Falling into the ‘hysterical female’ sub-genre, this is a take on The Lady Vanishes with Jodie Foster in the tigress mother role she has perfected.
Accompanied by her 6-year-old daughter Julia, Kyle (Foster) is travelling from Germany back to the US to bury her husband’s body. But she wakes up from a nap to find Julia gone, and despite evidence suggesting her daughter was never on the plane, Kyle refuses to accept that she’s delusional. Can she depend on Air Marshal Peter Sarsgaard, or Captain Sean Bean? The rest of the plot is so ludicrous that poking holes in it seems churlish; suffice to say that quite a lot hinges on random events and human reactions.
13. Disturbia (2007)
Shia LaBeouf stars as Kale, a teenager under house arrest after punching a teacher. He’s still dealing with the death of his father (as well as being named after a salad), so he’s a little emotionally unstable. His pals keep him company and they entertain themselves by spying on the neighbours. It’s all good clean fun until the evidence starts mounting up to suggest that the guy living opposite might be a serial killer.
With the classic theme of ‘I know it sounds crazy but you gotta believe me’, Kale has no choice but to co-ordinate his gang for some high-risk investigative escapades into enemy territory. Director D.J. Caruso makes use of every possible twist for this suburban shocker.
If you can’t get enough of hair-raising neighbours, you might also like The House Next Door (2002), a B-movie trying hard to be Rear Window.
12. Deception (2008)
Jonathan (Ewan McGregor) is a nerdy accountant (strongly reminiscent of Jerry Lewis’ nutty professor) and he fears life is passing him by. When he meets the charismatic alpha male Wyatt Bose (Hugh Jackman), a whole new, cool life beckons. After a ‘mix-up’ with a mobile phone, Jonathan is introduced to the delights of a strings-free sex club (he takes to ringing up random women with such confidence it makes you wonder why he didn’t have a dating life in the first place).
But can a club for swingers really be so safe and innocent? When a woman he knows only as ‘S’ (Michelle Williams) disappears from a seedy motel, Jonathan is plunged into a nightmare, and his new BFF Wyatt turns off the charm when the chips are down. Could Jonathan be the victim of a set-up, and can he save S?
11. Chloe (2009)
Originally made in France with the title Nathalie (2003) this movie follows the story of Catherine (Julianne Moore), who fears that her husband, college professor David (Liam Neeson) might fall prey to one of his pretty young students. She spots Chloe, a glamorous call girl with the eyes and lips of a sexy tropical fish, and decides to test his loyalty.
She approaches Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) and secretly arranges for her to meet David; when he gives in to temptation and kisses Chloe, Catherine asks her to continue to meet him, to see just how far he’ll go. But once you’ve invited a girl like Chloe into your life, how do you get her out of it? Director Atom Egoyan adds some soft-focus sapphic scenes to qualify this as an erotic thriller.
10. Trapped (2002)
Starring Kevin Bacon as a sleazy kidnapper alongside Charlize Theron as the mother who will fight to get her child back, this movie got pretty terrible ratings, but I liked it, so here it is. Dakota Fanning is flawless as the little girl (who of course has asthma and needs her inhaler) while Courtney Love gives an impressive performance as Kevin’s partner in crime.
Granted, writer Greg Iles does throw in everything but the kitchen sink, but how is that a bad thing? The suspense is eked out to keep you guessing until the very end; on the way we have tension as Charlize’s neighbour pops in and wonders why there’s a strange man in the house, the kidnappers realise they can’t handle a child who needs medical attention, and the terrified parents desperately try to outwit their adversaries.
9. Stoker (2013)
Thanks to Park Chan-wook’s direction (in his English language debut) this is more arty than your average YIP movie. Mia Wasikowska plays India, an awkward teenager baffled by the appearance of an uncle she has never heard of, following her father’s death. Mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) certainly seems to like him, and Uncle Charlie himself (Matthew Goode) makes an effort to get close to India.
Deliberately styled to look ambiguously old-fashioned although it’s set in the present day, it’s a clever homage to Shadow Of A Doubt (1943). Just like Hitchcock’s favourite of his own films, we have an Uncle Charlie who is discovered to be a killer by his beloved niece. What makes Stoker fascinating is the slow unveiling of Charlie’s psychotic history and India’s reaction to him.
8. Shattered/Butterfly On A Wheel (2007)
Neil (Gerard Butler) is the golden boy at work, has a big house and a nice car along with the perfect family; he’s so smug about all this that you wish someone would take him down a peg or two. So it’s somewhat satisfying when he and his wife Abbey (Maria Bello) leave their daughter with a babysitter and almost immediately afterwards find that she’s been taken hostage and they’re now at the mercy of a cold-hearted stranger (Pierce Brosnan).
At first the casting seems odd; wouldn’t Butler have made a more convincing bad guy? But as the movie progresses it all becomes clear, as he gets to do his action man stuff. With the couple sent running all over the city on odd assignments, forced to systematically destroy the perfect life they have built up, it’s a breathless ride.
7. Gone Girl (2014)
A smooth adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel depicting the ‘marriage from hell’, this includes the best yuppie line ever, as Ben Affleck nonchalantly points out “the cat’s room”.
When Amy goes missing, police are immediately suspicious; why do the signs of struggle look so staged? With inspired casting, Ben Affleck plays a slightly-gone-to-seed ex-high school jock; he has to prove he’s innocent of his wife’s murder. Despite her breathy voiceovers sounding like Joanna Lumley, Amy is rarely shown to be ‘the cool girl’ Flynn so cleverly lampooned, sticking to varying degrees of ‘shrewish harpy’ (I’d hoped for an actress with more sparkling charisma; for me, Rosamund Pike didn’t convince as a woman who could inspire love and obsession).
The movie has touches of dark satire which bring to mind 1989’s War Of The Roses, but Detective Boney (Kim Dickens) steals the show: “I gave you the benefit of the doubt. Every time you did something stupid, I thought, maybe he’s just stupid.”
6. The Gift (2015)
The Gift was written, produced, and directed by Joel Edgerton, who also stars as ‘Gordo the weirdo’. Gordo lacks social skills, so when he bumps into old schoolmate Simon (Jason Bateman) with his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) he doesn’t realise that nobody means it when they say “we must get together sometime”. When he finally gets the hint that they’re less than ecstatic to hang out, strange things happen (of course, pets are involved). But this isn’t a straightforward stalker case; the couple have some issues of their own and may not be the pinnacle of perfection that Gordo rather bitterly assumes them to be.
It’s an engrossing film and my only objections are: a) the dim lighting in some key scenes (it’s all very moody but I do like to be able to see what’s going on) and b) the disappointingly misogynistic finale. The Gift is an astonishingly recent addition to the long list of movies which depict women as mere possessions.
5. Side Effects (2013)
Writer Scott Z. Burns leaves no stone unturned in this tightly plotted, intricate story directed expertly by Steven Soderbergh. Jonathan (Jude Law) is the psychiatrist assigned to Emily, who turns out to have more problems than the average patient. (Rooney Mara is so Audrey Hepburnish in the role, it’s almost impossible to believe she also perfectly embodied Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in 2011.) We’re faced with a murky moral issue: can people be held responsible for crimes they commit under the influence of their medication?
Jonathan becomes suspicious about whether the drug he prescribed is really behind Emily’s actions, but as he delves into her past (including the relationship she had with former psychiatrist, Catherine Zeta-Jones) the truth that emerges is outlandish enough to make him sound like a paranoid loon, tightening the trap around him.
4. One Hour Photo (2002)
Strangers becoming over-familiar is a recurring theme in comedy (The Cable Guy, 1996) as well as drama (The Fan, 1996). Like many actors who start by playing for laughs, Robin Williams took the world by surprise when he proved he could excel at dramatic roles like this one.
Before we plastered our pictures all over the internet, one of the few strangers privy to all your memorable moments was the chap at your local one-hour chemist. Sy (Williams) forms an attachment to the Yorkin family, who slowly realise he’s lonely, but not wanting to get saddled with a socially-awkward new pal, they gently brush off his shy overtures of friendship. Although Sy becomes disturbingly unhinged when the family fail to live up to the high moral standards he’s set for them, it’s a film about the sadness of disconnected people rather than being a schlock horror.
3. Orphan (2009)
Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard play Kate and John (whose names clearly came from the big book of movie clichés); they’ve just gone through the tragedy of losing a child but decide the best way to move on is to adopt. And we all know those helpful urban legends about adoption being a dangerous gamble! Oh, and in case you were wondering, the child from hell is the non-American one.
Kate begins to suspect something is not quite right with the precocious Esther (the nuns from her orphanage let slip that “trouble has a way of finding her”), but who’ll believe a woman with a history of drinking problems? (Incidentally, Vera Farmiga already had experience playing the mother of an abnormal child in the slow-but-creepy Joshua in 2007.) The number of jump scares may be excessive, but Isabel Fuhrman creates a memorably sinister presence, aged just eleven.
2. A Perfect Getaway (2009)
Cydney (Milla Jovovich) and Cliff (Steve Zahn) are on their honeymoon in Hawaii; they meet a couple hitchhiking (one of whom is Chris Hemsworth in an early role) but find the pair too rough around the edges to contemplate hanging out with. New arrivals Nick and his girlfriend make much more likely travelling pals. Although Nick (Timothy Olyphant) is brash and annoying, he’s also a self-proclaimed expert on surviving outdoors: a useful person to hike with.
The happy campers hear a report of a double murder on a nearby island; police are looking for a couple. Cydney and Cliff start to get freaked out by Nick’s proficiency at making weapons; they also suspect they’re being followed by their hitchhiking pals. The script is written with such care and precision that multiple viewings will only confirm its underrated brilliance.
1. Panic Room (2002)
With perhaps the most yuppie-ish premise of all time (short of quinoa bandits raiding your walk-in larder) this film centres around the panic room built into the Upper West Side brownstone that divorcée Meg (Jodie Foster) moves into with her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart.) The previous owner installed the safe space as a refuge from intruders – with good reason, as some turn up in search of the millions they know are hidden there.Meg and her daughter are trapped with no telephone line yet installed, and the robbers can wait: it’s a siege. Heart-pounding complications ensue as the criminals fight amongst themselves and their victims make desperate attempts to get help.
Nicole Kidman was originally cast; the character changed with the arrival of Foster to become more feisty and resourceful, matching the tomboy spirit of Stewart, who was only eleven when the film wrapped. Foster has commented that their mother-daughter pairing felt natural, and perhaps their onscreen genetics rubbed off; anyone scoffing at Stewart’s naturalistic acting style should watch The Silence Of The Lambs to see exactly where Bella Swan learned to stutter, shuffle and create long awkward pauses just like real people do.
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