Psychological thrillers and identity-questioning narratives are two styles that always hit it big at the box office. For films that contain both, imagine how audiences would react as they journey with the clueless characters, who later discover an alternate reality presented to them. If you were such a character, what would you do?
That’s the challenge that Shutter Island seems to be presenting to viewers as each scene unfolds, one after another, advancing into very suspenseful plot twist after plot twist. And while we root for the hero at the beginning, we might end up questioning the characters’ motives and actions later on.
Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island seems to present these challenges to viewers. Indeed, the story messes with the minds, but that’s what intrigues us more! Plus, Leonardo DiCaprio gives a stellar performance here as US Marshall Edward Daniels who visits an asylum for the criminally insane, which later challenges his own sanity as he goes around the asylum and the island that houses it.
If you got excited with this dark period film, then we’re sure you’ll also love these following movies like Shutter Island.
1. Black Swan
Director Darren Aronofsky gave us Black Swan in 2010. Natalie Portman plays Nina, an aspiring ballet dancer who snags the coveted role of the lead in a New York production of Swan Lake.
Anyone familiar with Swan Lake knows that the lead ballerina plays two characters, the White Swan and the Black Swan. The former is the rather innocent depiction while the latter is the more sensual one. Nina has to be both. Sadly, their artistic director believes Nina is not yet equipped for the darker or sensual part.
Emotionally pressuring herself to prepare for the dual role, Nina suffers during the course of her ballet practice. Her insecurities make her feel that someone is out to harm her or to get her. It doesn’t help that her mother, herself a former ballerina, doesn’t believe much in Nina’s capacity to become the Black Swan.
Still, Nina tries to perfect both roles during rehearsals. It doesn’t help when their director compares her to a new and more sensual-appearing dancer named Lily. Eventually, Lily gets appointed as Nina’s understudy, who will perform the lead if Nina can’t perform.
All of these emotional and physical pressures eventually take their toll on Nina’s psychological take on things. Later, it also messes up her mind, in ways that she never imagined.
Director Christopher Nolan has his fair share of movies that mess up the mind. Memento is one of the earliest examples of this kind of work.
Released in 2000, Memento stars Guy Pearce as Leonard, an insurance investigator who suffers from a kind of amnesia as a result of an accident. This kind doesn’t allow him to form newer memories for long, so he easily forgets what could have just happened. Tough, right?
Now imagine this kind of person trying to find a man who may have assisted in killing his wife. Leonard suffers from the trauma of surviving an attack where his wife was raped and killed. He vaguely remembers a name, and goes around town looking for leads and clues.
In his search, Leonard is accompanied and humored by an undercover policeman. He supplies Leonard with snippets and clues to go by. All Leonard has is a Polaroid photo, a plate number, and a vague name. As he goes along with his investigation, he gets the newer bits of info and tattoos them on his skin, so as not to forget.
Nolan is very adept at presenting an intriguing story in a very creative way. Without revealing too much, you have to go see this film to find out just how far Leonard will go. And as part of the movies like Shutter Island, the ending here is also mind-blowing.
3. The Others
Reality builds up into a scary scenario at first, then haunts you and your children, day in and day out. That about sums up what The Others is all about.
This 2001 film is a mysterious horror story that took place right after the time of World War II. That alone qualifies this as one of those thrilling movies like Shutter Island, but there’s more to it once the story unravels.
The film tells the tale of a widow, Grace, living with two children in their huge house located on Channel Islands. The island is as remote as the house there, with a sprawling field around it, some forest areas nearby, and a cemetery.
Grace works with a new set of servants because she had problems with the last set. While the dialogue doesn’t immediately tell us what happened in the past, they just refer to that specific day when “something went wrong,” and Grace got mad at the past servants.
Soon, strange people started appearing in the remote house. Grace and her kids start to feel their presence. They are eventually convinced that their house is now haunted. In reality, though, this film would make you ask: what is really haunted, and who is doing the haunting?
This is where The Others expertly unravels the “real reality” from various points of view. No wonder this film got many accolades. Nicole Kidman as Grace is also worth watching here, so see it now!
4. Edge of Tomorrow
What if you are trapped to relive a specific reality over and over, until you master each detail of it? And the reason why this happens is that you are training to reset the biggest reality of all – the reality of life on earth, now being invaded by aliens.
This is basically the premise of the sci-fi film Edge of Tomorrow. Tom Cruise plays the soldier who gets to relieve a specific attack again and again. Each time the attack happens, he dies, but he wakes up again to find himself back in the starting point of that day.
While he may be enjoying waking up after being killed in combat, he tries to find out if this will make sense later on. And it does, when he encounters Sgt. Rita Vrataski. They eventually team up to serve one huge mission: to find out where the center of those alien beings is located. Hopefully, they plan to bomb that and put an end to earth’s current dystopian misery.
This film is here in the list of movies like Shutter Island because it also tries to find out the truth about a specific reality laid out before the characters. And they also question it, while trying to play around with it as well. Now that is an intriguing twist to this plot structure.
5. The Adjustment Bureau
What if we are all predestined to pursue one specific line of reality, but we feel like deviating from it? And if we try to deviate, officials would arrive and fix us back to our “proper course.” This is what The Adjustment Bureau is all about.
Partly inspired from a sci-fi story by master writer Philip K. Dick, this 2011 thriller stars Matt Damon as a congressman being groomed to become a bigger political figure by the people around him. He is destined to become a senator later on, and they are also aiming for him to become a US president. Now that’s such a heavy path to pursue!
But what if the congressman meets a ballerina in a chance encounter that could throw him off his predestined track? Soon, mysterious men in suits arrive and try to secretly block this meeting from happening. However, the initial blocking fails, so the men need to find other ways of adjusting the politician’s would-be life path.
The Adjustment Bureau is one of those movies like Shutter Island because it also involves mysterious people who try to manipulate a specific person’s destiny. It’s like they plant clues and put up barriers so that the person would specifically trudge on a specific path in an invisible maze. And if the person realizes that he is in a maze, then wow, that’s a huge revelation!
So go see how this adjustment thing works, and affects the minds!
6. Get Out
A recent winner that belongs in this list of movies like Shutter Island is Get Out. Set in contemporary times, it stars Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, an African-American photographer who takes a special trip with his girlfriend, the Caucasian Rose Armitage, played by Allison Williams. The trip is special because it’s the first time that Rose will introduce Chris as her boyfriend to her family.
Why the need to mention races? It’s because these identities play a huge role in the film’s mysteries. At first, Chris is hesitant because Rose forgot to mention to her white parents that her boyfriend is black. They are both hopeful, though, that this won’t be an issue.
When they reached the Armitage estate in the countryside, Chris discovers that there are some black folk there. One is the female housekeeper who speaks in a glassy-eyed creepy tone. The other is a young black man who acts as a groundskeeper, and speaks with a very upper-class demeanor that’s not usual for someone of his stature. At least that’s how Chris saw it.
And this is where Get Out starts to feel like one of those creepy movies like Shutter Island: Chris tries to confront his girlfriend Rose about these rapidly increasing strange goings-on, but she seems oblivious to them – or is she? This film gets more and more exciting with every scene change. So go watch it!
Perhaps one of the best classic example of suspense-filled superb movies like Shutter Island is this Alfred Hitchcock classic: Psycho. Who could ever forget the famed Bates Motel, run by the creepy Norman Bates, haunted by his creepy-nagging “mother” in the background?
Psycho is the black-and-white 1960 film that tells the simple story of Marion Crane, a secretary who decided to steal money from her real estate office one day. She tries to make a run for it, but police officers get suspicious of her on the road. So she parks at the Bates Motel nearby, and tries to decide if she’ll go on with her planned heist or not.
In that process, Marion meets Norman, who gets a bit smitten with her. Norman invites Marion to dinner, where it is revealed that his mentally ill mother prevents him from having a life of his own, much less a girlfriend to boot. That night, Marion takes a shower, but a mysterious figure murders her, creating one of the most iconic shower scenes ever in cinematic history.
What happens next is when Psycho now parallels with Shutter Island’s storyline unfolding. Is the reality that Norman Bates presents and perceives the true one? Or is there an alternative reality that he lives in, where Marion becomes a victim? Go see it to find out the answers – and discover why this is one of the greatest suspenseful movies of all time!
8. Flight Plan
What if your daughter disappears aboard a flight, and no one could tell where she is? Or worse, they can prove that your daughter didn’t come onboard the plane, since there is no trace of record of her being there? This was the reality-altering dilemma that a mother had to endure in Flight Plan.
Starring Academy Award-winning actress Jodie Foster, she portrays Kyle, an aircraft engineer, trapped in a web of confusion and lies that make her eventually question her own sanity. Based in Germany, Kyle is flying back to the USA to bring home her deceased husband’s body, traveling inside a casket. Their daughter is with her, but disappears suddenly from her seat.
What happens next in this suspense-filled story is what makes Flight Plan one of those nerve-wracking movies like Shutter Island. Everybody seems to know an alternative version of reality, while the main character firmly believes in the true version of it. So who’s sane and who’s insane here? As Kyle tries to unravel this mystery, the questions keep on piling up!
9. Ex Machina
So you’re a lowly programmer who suddenly won an office prize to visit your tech company CEO’s isolated high-tech house. Your mission there is to test whether your tech whiz of a boss’ latest invention, an artificial intelligence-infused humanoid robot, is capable of “feeling and being” human of sorts? Will you question this kind of high-tech filled fantasy-turned-reality?
This is what Ex Machina is all about. Written and directed by famed author Alex Garland, the film tells the story of Caleb the programmer who’s trying to enjoy and adjust to the whims and lifestyle of his quirky tech boss Nathan. Caleb also interacts heavily with the humanoid robot Ava, designed to be a deep-thinking and sensual robot at the same time.
Caleb and Ava enjoy each other’s company. Caleb gives Nathan some feedback about this invention. He also questions his quirky-creepy boss about the nature of his inventions, and tries to find the humanity in it as well. Sometimes, Nathan is okay with it. But sometimes, he’s not.
Soon, Ava drops hints to Caleb that the reality he sees in the house is not what he actually thinks it is. Caleb gets suspicious of it as well… until he eventually discovers what his role is in this whole high-tech picture.
Intrigued? You better be! Watch to find out what happens next!
10. North by Northwest
What if you get mistaken to be someone else one day, and a string of eventful mishaps happen because of this mistaken identity crisis? This is what another Alfred Hitchcock classic, North by Northwest, presents to us.
The 1959 classic stars Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill, an advertising man who gets mistaken as George Kaplan. Apparently, George has unscrupulous dealings, so he gets kidnapped and questioned by people he never met before. He was even forced to drink alcohol, narrowly escaping a car crash in the process.
When he sobers up, he brings his mother and the police to where he was abducted. But people there denied seeing him. Worse, the following days, he is again mistaken as Kaplan, and a crazy but adventure-filled rollercoaster ride begins again for Roger.
Roger tries to get the bottom of things, but he also starts questioning his own sanity from time to time. Go watch this to find out what he does to get out of the sticky situation.