9 Movies Like Primal Fear (1996)

Staff & contributors
Poland's nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2020 Academy Awards may have lost to Parasite, but director Jan Komasa's film is still utterly compelling. The crazy sounding premise is inspired by true events: after having had a transformative experience in jail, an ex-convict, played by the wiry, blue-eyed Bartosz Bielenia, decides he wants to become a priest. When he is told that his criminal history prohibits it, he goes down the path that got him into trouble in the first place and just pretends he is. Apparently, he does so quite convincingly—and serves the community well, which is collectively grieving for the victims of a tragic accident. For all his charisma, there's no way not to root for the crooked clergyman conning his way to the top. The complex character at the heart of Corpus Christi is refreshing and three-dimensional, and the smart writing of the film excels at exploring they grey areas of truth and religion. The ending, too, circumvents the soppy and the melodramatic. Thought-provoking European drama.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Łukasz Simlat, Aleksandra Konieczna, Anna Biernacik, Barbara Jonak, Barbara Kurzaj, Bartosz Bielenia, Eliza Rycembel, Jakub Sierenberg, Juliusz Chrząstowski, Leszek Lichota, Lidia Bogacz, Lidia Bogaczówna, Łukasz Simlat, Tomasz Ziętek, Tomasz Ziętek, Zdzisław Wardejn, Zdzisław Wardejn, Томаш Зитек

Director: Jan Komasa

The Royal Hotel sees Hanna (Julia Garner) and Liv (Jessica Henwick) resorting to take up a dire live-in job behind the bar in a remote desert part of Western Australia. Although they're warned that they'd "have to be okay with a little male attention" in the outcast mining town, their financial precarity overrides the potential fear. Curiously enough, the fiction film is based on a real story, already told in the 2016 documentary Hotel Coolgardie by Pete Gleeson, but The Assistant director Kitty Green pulls no punches when representing how suffocating it must feel to be encircled by such unmediated male aggression. The brawls, the spilled beer, the c-word as a greeting all form the unnerving paraphernalia of life then and there. For Australian independent film devotees, there is actor Toby Wallace, who reprises his bad boy role from Babyteeth, and he's joined by the ranks of Herbert Nordrum (The Worst Person in the World) and an utterly terrifying Hugo Weaving (The Matrix).

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alex Malone, Barbara Lowing, Baykali Ganambarr, Bree Bain, Bruce R. Carter, Daniel Henshall, Herbert Nordrum, Hugo Weaving, James Frecheville, Jessica Henwick, Julia Garner, Kate Cheel, Patrick Frost, Toby Wallace, Ursula Yovich, Valerie Berry

Director: Kitty Green

Rating: R

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

This is a touching saga based on the plight of the women labelled as "fallen" that the Magdalene Laundries housed in Ireland. The movie grips you by the throat right from the first minute and the sense of injustice to women that characterizes the entire length of the film only rarely eases up to give you room to appreciate the emotional complexities that each individual character represents. The stories of Margaret, Bernadette and Rose and the people they meet inside the Magdalene Laundry will force you to ask time and again during the movie, "Why?" and "Who are they to?". You will share in Bernadette's sense of outrage, in Rose's compassion and Margaret's acute fear of the church, of speaking up and asking for justice. So much so, that you may even find yourself identifying with (or at least understanding) Crispina's questionable grasp on reality. Worst of all, the devout Catholic establishment that this was, hypocrisy and corruption ran through its every vein, adding to the shock and resentment that builds towards the, for the lack of a better word, captors of our protagonists. The Magdalene Sisters is a tribute to one of the forgotten chapters in a long history of injustice to women and an absolutely moving one at that. It does not fail to utterly horrify while it also warms your heart.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Anne-Marie Duff, Britta Smith, Chris Patrick-Simpson, Daniel Costello, Dorothy Duffy, Eamonn Owens, Eileen Walsh, Eithne McGuinness, Frances Healy, Geraldine McEwan, Mary Murray, Nora-Jane Noone, Peter Mullan, Phyllis MacMahon, Stephen McCole

Director: Peter Mullan

Rating: R

This South Korean coming-of-age story, an award-winning debut from Lee Su-jin, is centered around a high school student named Han Gong-ju. There's a dark aura surrounding our teenage protagonist, as she avoids making new friends and closes herself off from the world. More than anything, she is afraid that people will discover the secret behind her shy persona, and the past events that changed her life forever. This is an intricate and truly devastating tale, sensitively told, and is likely to leave even the most hardened viewers filled with rage at those who have wronged Han Gong-ju.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Baek Ji-won, Baik Ji-won, Beom-taek Kwon, Chun Woo-hee, Dong Hyun-bae, In-seon Jeong, In-sun Jung, Ji Soo, Jo Dae-hee, Jung In-sun, Kim Hyun-joon, Kim Ji-soo, Kim Jung-pal, Kim So-young, Kimchoi Yong-Joon, Kwon Beom-taek, Kwon Bum-taek, Lee Young-lan, Min Kyung-jin, Oh Hee-joon, Oh Hee-jun, So-young Kim, Son Seul-gi, Woo-hee Chun, Yeong-ran Lee, Yim Dong-seok, Yoo Seung-mok, Young-lan Lee

Director: Lee Su-jin, Su-jin Lee

Rating: R

In Rounders, Matt Damon plays a law student and reformed poker player who is forced back into the game in order to help his newly-paroled best friend (Edward Norton) pay off overwhelming gambling debts. It’s an enjoyable insider’s look into the world of high stakes gambling and of Poker specifically, giving the viewer compelling insights into Poker in terms of strategy as well as human psychology. Damon and Norton are well-cast in their roles — Norton particularly great as the sleazy and manipulative “Worm”. Not-overly-surprising in its storytelling, yet highly enjoyable from beginning to end, this one will appeal to fans of gambling and sports films, as well as those who enjoy modern film noir and pseudo-noir films with a nice dramatic edge.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Adam LeFevre, Alan Davidson, Allan Havey, Beeson Carroll, Bill Camp, Brian Anthony Wilson, Charlie Matthes, Chris Messina, David Zayas, Dominic Marcus, Edward Norton, Erik LaRay Harvey, Famke Janssen, Goran Visnjic, Gretchen Mol, Jay Boryea, Joe Zaloom, Joey Vega, John Di Benedetto, John Gallagher Jr., John Malkovich, John Turturro, Johnny Chan, Josh Mostel, Josh Pais, Kerry O'Malley, Kohl Sudduth, Lenny Clarke, Lenny Venito, Lisa Gorlitsky, Mario Mendoza, Martin Landau, Matt Damon, Melina Kanakaredes, Merwin Goldsmith, Michael Arkin, Michael Lombardi, Michael Rispoli, Michael Ryan Segal, Murphy Guyer, Neal Hemphill, Nicole Brier, P.J. Brown, Paul Cicero, Peter Yoshida, Ray Iannicelli, Richard Mawe, Sal Richards, Slava Schoot, Sonny Zito, Tom Aldredge, Tony Hoty

Director: John Dahl

Rating: R

Just like with his mentor and contemporary, Fred Rogers, there are no dark secrets to Ernest Coombs' earnest belief in giving children the space to be gentle and creative. Even with relatively little "drama" throughout the life of the man called Mr. Dressup, it's still profoundly moving to see him put in the work to make the world a kinder place. Director Robert McCallum keeps this documentary exactly as straightforward as it needs to be, moving through Coombs's life with total reverence but plenty of modesty—making sure not to inflate the idea of Mr. Dressup into something Coombs himself would have disagreed with.

In its act of honoring this person with an everyman personality and a trunk full of quaint costumes, the film also serves as a tribute to low budget educational television. Working within a very small studio, with simple puppets and no strict script to follow, Coombs and his friends found any way possible to stick to their original idea of teaching very young kids that being kind and communicating one's feelings clearly were the best things one could achieve. Behind Mr. Dressup's softness is a remarkable work ethic, a deep respect for children, and a commitment to thoughtful, universal values.

Genre: Documentary, Family

Actor: Andrew Phung, Bif Naked, Bruce McCulloch, Catherine Tait, Ed Robertson, Eric McCormack, Ernie Coombs, Fred Penner, Fred Rogers, Graham Greene, Jim Creeggan, Jim Parker, Jonathan Torrens, Judith Lawrence, Kevin Hearn, Lynn Coombs, Michael J. Fox, Nina Keogh, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Peter Mansbridge, Scott Thompson, Terry McManus, Trina McQueen, Tyler Stewart, Yannick Bisson

Director: Robert McCallum

Unlike the many courtroom films of its time, My Cousin Vinny forgoes theatrics and drama for true-blue comedy. It stars Joe Pesci as the titular Vinny, a newly minted New York attorney who's taking on a murder trial in Alabama as his first case, while Marisa Tomei plays Vinny's fiancée, Mona Lisa Vito, in an Oscar-winning turn. The loudmouthed couple are decidedly out of place in Alabama, supplying the film with many comedic gems, but they're also unexpectedly clever. Along with its humor and memorable characters, My Cousin Vinny has come to be known for its legal accuracy and flair.

Genre: Comedy, Crime

Actor: Austin Pendleton, Bill Coates, Bob Penny, Bruce McGill, Chris Ellis, Fred Gwynne, J. Don Ferguson, James Rebhorn, Jill Jane Clements, Joe Pesci, Kenny Jones, Lane Smith, Lou Walker, Marisa Tomei, Maury Chaykin, Michael Burgess, Michael Genevie, Mitchell Whitfield, Muriel Moore, Paulene Myers, Ralph Macchio, Raynor Scheine, Ron Leggett, Suzi Bass, Thomas Merdis

Director: Jonathan Lynn

Rating: R

Without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most gripping thrillers in recent years. It starts in a morgue where a corpse of a deceased femme fatale goes missing. Her husband is the first person to be suspected as evidence starts pointing to him for killing his wife and hiding the body. He is called by the police to the crime scene to help with the investigation that is led by a shady detective. The film then takes you on a journey filled with reflections on marriage, deceit and the character's urge to safeguard whats their own and the territories they are willing to cross to keep it. Drawing you into the atmosphere from the very start, it refuses to let you go out of it. All while maintaining a simple premise.  

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Ahmed Adel, Aida Oset, Aina Planas, Aura Garrido, Belén Rueda, Camilo García, Carlota Olcina, Cristina Plazas, Hugo Silva, Jordi Planas, José Coronado, Juan Pablo Shuk, Manel Dueso, Miquel Gelabert, Montse Guallar, Nausicaa Bonnín, Oriol Vila, Paco Moreno, Patrícia Bargalló, Pere Brasó, Sílvia Aranda

Director: Oriol Paulo

Rating: Not Rated