5 Best European Thrillers Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

La Cérémonie is the kind of thriller you can watch repeatedly and glean new insight from each time. Right from its first scene, there’s something puzzling about the buttoned-up Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire) that narrows your focus and pulls you in. What’s remarkable is that, even after the secret Sophie's keeping that seems to explain her strangeness is revealed, our intrigue never dips. Director Claude Chabrol and his cast construct a gripping twin character study and biting social commentary around that initial hook, as Sophie finds a kindred spirit in the equally uncanny Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert), who opens her eyes to the slyly patronizing way Sophie’s employers treat her.

The film’s study of class relations is always subtle, never veering into over-pronounced territory. That much is clear from the fact that, although some of Sophie’s employer’s family are quite likable, you still understand the ways they’re inextricably embroiled in the film’s quiet indictment of the power dynamics that rule this lofty mansion. More nuance comes by way of the strikingly nonchalant ways evil is depicted in La Cérémonie — just another example of the movie turning something expected (violence is foreshadowed early on) into something that remains viscerally shocking, no matter how many times you watch it.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Christophe Lemoine, David Gabison, Dominique Frot, Isabelle Huppert, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-François Perrier, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Julien Rochefort, Sandrine Bonnaire, Valentin Merlet, Virginie Ledoyen, Yves Verhoeven

Director: Claude Chabrol

Rating: NR

Featuring a Pre-Bond Daniel Craig, Layer cake can be described as a mix between Lock Stock, Two Smoking Barrels and Scarface—a darkly funny and incredibly violent film. It features great acting from Craig and the rest of the cast, action that will keep you on the edge of your seat once it gets moving and a complex and deep theme that can make you reconsider your worldview. This is a true action movie for the thinking man (or woman).

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Ben Brazier, Ben Whishaw, Brinley Green, Burn Gorman, Colm Meaney, Daniel Craig, Daniel Moorehead, Darren Healy, Darren Sean Enright, Dexter Fletcher, Dimitri Andreas, Don McCorkindale, Dragan Mićanović, Francis Magee, George Harris, Ivan Kaye, James Dodd, Jamie Foreman, Jason Flemyng, Kelly-Marie Kerr, Kenneth Cranham, Kerri Kravin, Louis Emerick, Marcel Iures, Matt Ryan, Matthew Vaughn, Michael Gambon, Nathalie Lunghi, Neil Finnighan, Nick Thomas-Webster, Peter Rnic, Rab Affleck, Sally Hawkins, Sienna Miller, Stephen Walters, Steve John Shepherd, Tamer Hassan, Tom Hardy

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Rating: R

, 2022

A young woman’s coming-of-age threatens to topple the uneasy hierarchy of her family in this striking debut from Croatian director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović. The trigger for Julija’s (Gracija Filipović) angsty rebellion is the arrival of her parents’ enigmatic wealthy friend, Javi (Cliff Curtis), whom her controlling father Ante (Leon Lučev) is hoping to squeeze a juicy investment out of. Part of hot-headed Ante’s strategy involves playing on Javi’s still-simmering feelings for Ante's wife Nela (Danica Čurčić) — a dicey game to play when you have a temper like his. It’s also a very manipulative one, and the film lives in the atmosphere of claustrophobia that comes with being a woman in Ante’s life. Though her mother seems resigned to acceptance, Julija yearns for liberation, and it’s her burgeoning awareness of her own power as a woman that fires this drive for freedom. With its stunning Adriatic setting and haunting underwater sequences — the family are keen spearfishers — Murina is a film of natural beauty and human ugliness, a slow burn of a psychological drama that uses volatile teenage emotions as its incendiary fuel.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Cliff Curtis, Danica Curcic, Goran Grgić, Gracija Filipović, Jonas Smulders, Klara Mucci, Leon Lucev, Marina Redzepovic, Milan Štrljić, Zoran Tadić

Director: Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović

In The Beasts, the idyllic semi-retirement that a French couple seeks in the Galician countryside — growing organic vegetables, fixing up abandoned farmhouses — devolves into a terrifying slow-burn nightmare. This beautifully shot yet spiritually ugly thriller plunges us straight into an atmosphere of crackling social tension that never abates. We begin after the event that turns local farmer Xan (Luis Zahera) and his brother Loren (Diego Anido) against French transplants Antoine (Denis Ménochet) and Olga (Marina Foïs): the latter two have vetoed the sale of land to a wind turbine company in favor of preserving the village’s rustic character. Incensed by what he sees as the theft of his birthright by an outsider, Xan orchestrates a steadily intensifying campaign of terror against the couple.

Though much slighter than the physically imposing Ménochet, Zahera makes for a profoundly menacing presence, and Xan’s seemingly endless appetite for hostility and vindictiveness charges the film with a deeply unsettling sense of inevitability. His performance alone would mark The Beasts as a standout, but an unexpected switch in character focus late on in the film wrests it out of Xan’s grasp and reorients the movie as a study of grim resolve — making it a film of two equally remarkable halves.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: David Menéndez, Denis Ménochet, Federico Pérez Rey, Luis Zahera, Luisa Merelas, Machi Salgado, Marie Colomb, Marina Fois, Xavier Estévez

Director: Rodrigo Sorogoyen

This movie is like thriller-candy. It is full of twists, it is very atmospheric, and in nicely predictable fashion it will deliver that excitement rush we (most of us) love. Accused of murder, a wealthy entrepreneur hires the best witness preparation expert he can find. They have three hours before the trial to come up with the most solid, plausible defence. But ?, a new witness surfaces. Don’t expect anything overly original, but expect to be entertained.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Ana Wagener, Annick Weerts, Barbara Lennie, Betsy Túrnez, Blanca Martínez, Cristian Valencia, David Selvas, Francesc Orella, Iñigo Gastesi, Jordi Brunet, Jordi Llordella, José Coronado, Laia Alberch, Manel Dueso, Mario Casas, Oriol Paulo, Paco Tous, Pere Brasó, Ruth Llopis, San Yélamos, Sandra Golpe

Director: Oriol Paulo

Rating: N/A