European cinematography has always been full of intriguing and somewhat different movies than the worldwide famous American. From the British black and white silent movies, through the French Nouvelle Vague, Italian neorealism to Spanish surrealism. Together with talented and fascinating Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, Polish director Miloš Forman, German directors Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders and Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, European cinematography couldn’t even have deserved anything but appraisal.
Thriller is a genre where everything can go terribly wrong or the audience can be completely smitten. Spanish thrillers very often have that mysterious tone, claustrophobia and intense atmosphere which don’t allow you to look away from the screen. They are really doing a great job in keeping the viewers on their toes until the very end of the movie. Here is the list of the 15 best Spanish thrillers of all time.
La habitacion de Fermat (Fermat’s Room, 2007)
Many here mentioned movies flirt with various genres, but this is a true thriller. We have 4 mathematicians who are invited to a house and locked inside a room in order to solve an enigma. Something that at the beginning looked as an interesting task, slowly starts to become a twisted experiment.
The room is starting to shrink and they are given one minute to solve a puzzle with a cellphone. And to discover something even more important. Why are they here? Who is behind all this and what does he want to prove? It is a game of cat and mouse, an exciting thriller which won’t let you rest for a moment.
Los ojos de Julia (Julia’s Eyes, 2010)
When we see Guillermo del Toro’s name on movie credits, we know we can expect something inventive, disturbing and extremely interesting. It was the case with this one, too. It is a horror thriller which will haunt you long after you’ve watched it.
After the death of her blind twin sister Sara, Julia starts to discover many secrets and weird occurrences that followed the life of her sister. She meets people her sister was in contact with and finds out that she was pretty different than she thought. We are constantly faced with new revelations, until the unforgettable climax at the very ending.
Tesis (Thesis, 1996)
One of the biggest names in modern Spanish cinematography is Alejandro Amenabar and he has to be mentioned in this list. Tesis is his directing debut where he immediately showed his directing and writing potential.
A disturbing and difficult movie, one which will give you nightmares due to its story. Angela is doing a thesis about violence and accidentally finds a snuff movie where a girl is tortured until death. Soon she discovered that the girl was a former student at her faculty. She starts to investigate the people around her and comes to shocking discoveries. Soon she realizes that she has got herself way too deep in these crimes.
La noche de los girasoles (The Night of the Sunflowers, 2006)
A big hit and award winner, this movie is a classic tale of murder, investigation and revelation of numerous secrets. A dead body of a young woman was found in the middle of a sunflower field and it will only be a trigger for the events that follow.
It is always interesting to see a movie where we need to follow more than one story. And here we need to follow many more. We meet various characters who are in a way connected to each other. In such a small town in the middle of nowhere, it is impossible not to be. But sometimes it is not really recommended to try and solve and figure out everything.
Mientras duermes (Sleep Tight, 2011)
After watching this movie, you will definitely check every corner of your apartment or house. Extremely tense and twisted, this movie proves how human mind is the sickest place that exists. Once again, this Spanish obsession with claustrophobia can be witnessed here. We are almost all the time inside an apartment and feel great unease while watching what the main character decides to do.
This is a story of an unhappy man who can’t deal with his problems and starts to project them on others. It is a story of obsession and what comes out of it. A true psychological thriller that will leave you speechless and pretty shaken.
Cronocrimenes (Timecrimes, 2007)
A science fiction thriller, a nerve wrecking story of a man who finds himself in the middle of a time travel. Somewhere in the Spanish countryside, Hector and his wife live a pretty predictable life. One look through binoculars will change Hector’s life. He will witness something that might end up in a crime, but during that gets involved in many storylines which change depending on his actions as different Hector.
Sounds complicated? Isn’t it always with parallel universes and time travel? Very well executed, mysterious and tense, this thriller is something completely different and an excellent choice if you are a fan of something unusual and innovative.
Durante la tormenta (Mirage, 2018)
Spanish filmmakers are really very good at making movies with parallel universes. So imaginative and original, their cinematography really never fails to amaze and surprise us. Fifteen years apart, a boy Nico in 1989 and Vera Roy in 2014 who moved into a house he used to live in, somehow get into a wormhole and manage to communicate through TV. What Nico doesn’t know is that Very found out what happened to him the night he recorded a video with himself in it.
As Very tries to stop him from getting into this accident again, things start changing and we learn what happens when we try to interfere with the past and people’s destinies. Once again, an emotion packed movie which will leave you with many questions and things to discuss.
La cara oculta (The Hidden Face, 2011)
This movie is one of the most claustrophobic thrillers ever. Following the disappearance of a young woman named Belen, who left her boyfriend via a video, we slowly start to unravel a terrifying story behind everything. We are faced with a truly disturbing and scary ending. The atmosphere here is what makes this movie so worth watching.
The twist at the end is masterful and one of the best in the genre. But don’t watch the trailer to this movie, since everything is revealed in these two minutes. Unfortunately, the whole point is lost here and we miss a big surprise that would otherwise leave us speechless.
Abre los ojos (Open Your Eyes, 1997)
Once again Amenabar and once again a brilliant thriller that leaves you speechless at its very ending. He knows how to keep his audience interested and perplexed.
We follow a story from a prison cell where the young Cesar, a man wearing a prosthetic mask tells his story to a psychiatrist. It is a complicated story full of holes, but Cesar doesn’t remember everything that happened on the night he was convicted of murder. He starts to remember some fragments which come to him in the form of dreams. And then everything becomes even more puzzling and we end up with an ending that could be discussed and discussed.
La piel que habito (The Skin I Live In, 2011)
If you are a fan of Pedro Almodovar’s movies, then this is one you definitely shouldn’t miss. A bit different from his usual stories, this movie will literally make your skin crawl. It is again a story about a woman, this time a young captive Vera who lives with a disturbed plastic surgeon.
But this is only the beginning, the introduction to this unbelievable thriller. The plot twists we are witnessing, the characters which never stop surprising us. Everything is so perfectly imagined and executed. And Antonio Banderas once again showed us that he is so much more than just a pretty face. This is definitely one of his best roles.
And this time Almodovar goes even deeper into the human psyche and proves his immense directing talent, but also understanding of what goes inside our minds.
El cuerpo (The Body, 2012)
A movie where the whole story happens in a morgue immediately tells us that we are up for a creepy and scary story. And indeed we get one. The body of a wealthy middle aged woman Mayka Villaverde disappeared from the morgue. All of a sudden we start discovering different secrets around the woman and her husband. The police inspector Jaime Pena meets her widower Alex Ulloa who behaves in a somewhat peculiar manner.
El cuerpo is an extremely clever movie that won’t let you rest for a minute. The story will slowly start to unravel and we are going to be faced with more and more interesting discoveries. It seems that there is someone else in the morgue. What happened between Mayka and Alex? Did Pena know something more than he is accounted for? The ending will leave you speechless.
El orfanato (The Orphanage, 2007)
One of the most emotional and sad thrillers that you’ll ever see. Such a beautiful and heartbreaking story, with an ending that might break your heart, Starring always wonderful Belen Rueda as a woman who returns to her childhood which used to be an orphanage.
We follow her family in this huge house near the beach and listen about her plans on making it a house for disabled children. After a quarrel with her adopted son Simon, he disappears and we are drawn into a horror story that will end up in one of the biggest twists ever.
Bleak and gloomy, this movie is a masterpiece that will leave you breathless, but with such unease that you will think twice before choosing something similar to it. Highly recommended, but take care of your nerves.
Isla minima (Marshland, 2014)
A movie that the fans of a great American detective show True Detective will certainly love. There is something very similar between these two. Most probably the setting and the atmosphere, but also the relationship between the two detectives in both the show and the movie.
In 1980, two detectives were sent to investigate the disappearance of two sisters. They need to move to Spain’s “Deep South”, to a town in the middle of nowhere. As we find ourselves on the edge of our seats while we are waiting for the detectives to find the girls, we are also witnessing the tense and intriguing relationship between two completely different individuals.
The whole tone of this movie is grim and depressing. The weather is constantly bad, the tensions between the detectives are growing by the minute and we are constantly hoping for something positive.
El segreto de sus ojos (The Secret In Their Eyes, 2009)
Although not a true representative of the thriller genre, this movie has so much mystery in itself that it must be included in any list with the Spanish movies. And not only do we find it on many lists, but it is also most of the time among the best movies in the genre.
It seems that Spanish (and in this case Spanish/Argentinian) filmmakers love nonlinear narratives. We change years and characters, we reveal so many secrets that we have to be very careful and follow them properly. Once again an investigation, this time of the rape and murder of a young woman. Once again inspectors with their own ghosts and problems. And once again a crime that is so much more than what we thought it was.
Contratiempo (The Invisible Guest, 2016)
One of the first movies that come to mind when someone asks us to recommend a Spanish thriller is definitely Contratiempo. It is a movie which you won’t forget for a long, long time. It is clever, intelligent and freakishly creepy. It is slow, it changes timelines and narrators. It really deserves our full attention.
When a young and acclaimed businessman Adrian Doria is accused of murdering his girlfriend, his lawyer hires a famous attorney to try and come up with the most perfect defense. They meet in his apartment and have only three hours to agree on Doria’s witnessing.
We soon go back and follow Doria’s story where he explains what led to him waking up next to his dead girlfriend. The plot starts thickening at that point and we are soon witnessing one of the most unforgettable endings in a thriller.