It’s no secret that, here at No But Listen, we are batshit fucking bananas-boo-boo-crazy-bonkers-a-looza (and I say that with the deepest affection and respect for both ourselves and other people afflicted with mental illness. If you’d like to read more serious stuff on our mental health, check out some of our work here and here). And, as people who also happen to love horror, we have a real soft spot for examples of the genre that take on mental health and mental illness in a genuinely interesting way, that doesn’t just involve going “ooga booga! Bipolar disorder“. If we’re going to deal with the horror of being a bit mad, then at the very least, we should get to enjoy some horror movies about it, right? Let’s talk some of our most beloved horrors about mental illness!
This 2021 Swedish horror flick is pretty recent, but it’s already made a mark in my favourite horror movies of the decade. Following Molly, a woman recently released from a psychiatric institution after the death of her long-term partner, after she returns home and begins hearing a mysterious knocking sound in her apartment, it covers an interesting cross-section of issues impacting the mentally ill, especially women. Molly’s mounting fear and paranoia come up against the dismissal of her terror due to her previous mental health issues. It toes that line between confirmation and denial to turn this into a really compelling thriller, with something genuinely interesting to say about the way that “women’s hysteria” and the perception of it still affects the way mentally ill women are treated.
2. They Look Like People
We’ve talked about this film before, but come on – it’s one of the best horrors of the century so far, and I simply will not stop banging on about it until I see it near the top of everyone’s top ten lists. The 2015 masterpiece from Perry Blackshear is pretty much just a straight depiction of someone falling into serious psychosis, and it genuinely doesn’t get more unsettling than that. The person suffering isn’t the monster here – their illness is, and a portrait forms of someone sinking under the weight of their own distorted reality. I have yet to see a movie that captures the feeling of losing control of your mind in such a visceral way, and They Look Like People manages to deliver that story in a heartfelt and human way that doesn’t serve to further stigmatize this already-maligned issue – nor end it on a needlessly horrible note.
3. The Swerve
Another modern classic that hasn’t got the love it deserves yet, The Swerve starts the way all terrible things do, with insomnia – but it gets so much worse from there. Middle-class teacher Holly (Azura Skye) is plagued with dread about a terrible act she may or may not have committed, anxiety starts to consume her life, and the line between the real and the impossible starts to blur to a claustrophobic degree. The suburban sterility punctured by horrifying, gory nastiness as things begin to unravel gives The Swerve a truly unsettling backdrop. Skye turns in a truly blinding performance here as a mother losing her grip on her life and her mind, and, for first-time feature director Dean Kaspalis, this is a damn impressive achievement in terms of cinematography and atmosphere-building.
By Lou MacGregor
(header image via SciFiNow)