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The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

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The Muse: Cross Cultural Crime Thriller Extravaganza


The Muse is a creative publication that aims to share the interests, talents, and research of students on campus. The following represents the opinion of the student writer and does not represent the views of Loyola University Maryland, the Greyhound, or Loyola University’s Department of Communication.


If you know me, you know that it was only a matter of time before I came back to my true love; the horror genre. So today we’re going to dive into a subgenre that I didn’t really cover in my “History of Horror Handshake” (LINK) article where I went over the 5 most influential American horror movies. I talked about slashers, zombie movies, supernatural horror, folk horror, and alien horror. But today we’re going to talk about my all-time favorite kind of horror film, the crime thriller. As we enter into this terrifying world, I’m going to try and convince you that these dark, almost always depressing movies are more than just bleak violence and a rainy camera filter. I picked out three prime examples of the genre that are some of my all-time favorites and will get you just as hooked as me; Se7en (1995), Memories of Murder (2003), and Cure (1997). The order I listed them in is no accident – they’re ranked by how I would recommend watching them if you aren’t some horror freak like me. Also, I’m putting this warning here: these movies are not happy movies. There may be some moments of humor or optimism but they are often tragic, graphic, and violent.


“Se7en” is directed by one of the greatest American directors to ever live, David Fincher, and stars Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as two homicide detectives on opposite ends of their careers. Set in a bleak and purposely vague American city, the film follows a string of gruesome murders themed on the seven deadly sins and how the two detectives Mills (Pitt) and Somerset (Freeman) race against time to catch the killer. Somerset is an old jaded cop who’s only a week away from retiring when the first murder is discovered. His partner Mills is a brash young cop who jumps at the idea of solving the case and catching the bad guy. The two’s dynamic is one of the film’s many strengths as Somerset tries to impart upon Mills that life isn’t always black and white, while Mills pushes back against Somerset’s jaded cynicism. But the film isn’t just great because of the performances, it’s really the tone and set design that elevate it to its place amongst the all-time greats.

“Se7en” is only David Fincher’s second film and a huge step up from his first movie “Alien 3”, which is by all accounts a pretty bad film. Fincher would go on to direct classics like “Fight Club,” “Gone Girl,” and “The Social Network,” as well as the underrated but quality crime thriller “Zodiac” based on the real-life case of The Zodiac Killer, which I almost included instead of “Se7en” in my list. But I digress, Fincher is known, like his spiritual predecessor Stanley Kubrick, for doing take after take of every shot, obsessing over minute details, and just generally not being maybe the most pleasant person to work with, all for the sake of perfect realism. I must say, that his pursuit of excellence really shines through in his films. The realism he craves in his films is apparent from the way his characters read their lines even to the way the camera moves. When Fincher makes Brad Pitt do 40 takes of a shot where he makes himself coffee: that isn’t because Brad Pitt is a bad actor who can’t read his lines convincingly, it’s for the camera operator as well. When you watch this movie, pay attention to the way the camera moves in the film – David Fincher’s camera is as close to the way a human would watch a situation take place as I’ve ever seen captured on screen. Bundle that natural realism with great performers, a well-written script, and brilliant set design, and you’ve got yourself a truly frightening masterpiece. Let me put it this way; my father has been in law enforcement his entire adult life and he couldn’t make it through this movie without running into the kitchen to hide.

“Memories of Murder”

Okay so you’ve watched “Se7en” and you loved it…well I’ve got the movie for you. It’s a little bit less well known, but Bong Joon-ho’s 2003 film “Memories of Murder” is just as good, if not better than “Se7en”, and due to the success of his 2019 film “Parasite,” Joon-ho’s name is one that many Western audience members will be familiar with. “Memories of Murder” even stars Song Kang-ho as its main “protagonist” too. He plays Detective Park, alongside Kim Sang-Kyung as Detective Seo, and Kim Roi-ha as Detective Cho respectively. Unlike “Se7en,” “Memories of Murder” is based on real events, specifically the real-life story of South Korea’s first serial killer. We follow the local police force in the Gyeonggi province as they try to put a stop to the murders, through the main characters, Detectives Park, Seo, and Cho. Each man is a symbol of a different problem that plagues the South Korean police force, with Park relying on intuition over fact, Seo too busy being the opposite of Park to work together with his fellow officers, and Cho, who seems more like a thug who enjoys being a cop solely to beat on defenseless people. Yet even despite their flaws, each man is likable in his own way.

That’s really the beauty of this film. We follow these flawed men because the story is about them; but the true story is the one going on in the background, from the student protests being violently repressed to the rampant misogyny that actively allows the killer to escape. There are so many moments when the killer seems to be within reach but the corruption inherent in the police force rears its ugly head. But we aren’t shown this corruption in a black-and-white way. These corrupt detectives are characters that we love; they’re trying, they’re flawed, and we genuinely care about them. It’s this dynamic of the fruitless struggle, the tension created by these men failing when they’re so close, the human element of watching innocent women who could have been saved suffer the consequences – it’s truly so gripping. Despite the horrors, this film is genuinely funny (definitely the funniest of the three), and that all just goes to show how talented of a director Bong Joon-ho is. The tension, the rain, the beautiful shots, the performances he gets out of his actors, like Fincher, Joon-ho is undeniably one of the greatest living directors. And also, this is only his second film. I promise this film is worth a watch…and then a rewatch…and about a hundred more. Every time I watch it, I catch something that I didn’t the last time. I just want to watch it again and again, despite how truly sad it is.


Finally, the least well-known film of the three that I recommend is a Japanese film called “Cure,” directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and starring Koji Yakusho as Detective Takabe, Tsuyoshi Ujiki as Dr. Sakuma and Masato Hagiwara as Mamiya in by far the most supernatural of the three films. The plot revolves around a string of killings all over Tokyo. The murderers have nothing in common yet they all leave the same bloody mark on their victims. Detective Takabe and Dr. Sakuma are brought in to try and solve these heinous crimes only for their investigation to wander away from known reality and into some pretty crazy places. If the investigation were all that we were following, the film would still be very interesting. But what elevates the plot is the relationship between Takabe and his wife Fumie, played by Anna Nakagawa. Fumie is struggling with early onset dementia, or some form of amnesia, and combined with the case, taking care of her is having a serious effect on Takabe.

Kurosawa’s use of sound in this film elevates the material here and truly creates a hypnotic tone, lulling you into a false sense of security, all while your subconscious screams that something isn’t right. Man, there’s one scene in this movie, around the halfway point that I won’t spoil here, but you’ll know immediately what I’m talking about. One of the most haunting moments I’ve ever witnessed in a film. Of the three crime thrillers I’ve mentioned here, “Cure” definitely strays the farthest into traditional horror – but that dark realism is still at play even if some suspension of disbelief is required. Kurosawa’s masterpiece can be deeply unsettling and I would argue it is the most unsettling of the three films purely based on the atmosphere created. Definitely give “Cure” a watch and let me know what you think, I guarantee this film will sit with you long after you’ve finished watching it.

This list was really tough to narrow down, but before I go, I want to throw out some honorable mentions if you get as hooked on this genre as I am. These won’t necessarily be underground picks, but of course, how could I not mention 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs?” It follows Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), a top student in the FBI academy who is tasked with interviewing cannibalistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins) because the FBI believes he has information on Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), a deranged killer still at large. The on-screen chemistry between Foster and Hopkins is perfect and the tension as we slowly get closer to Bill is palpable. This is the type of movie you watch hiding behind your couch. Also, I know I mentioned it before, but David Fincher’s “Zodiac” is an underrated film in his discography that I think more people should watch. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr., “Zodiac” follows the real-life story of the Zodiac killings in the Bay Area, the investigation, and the furor caused. We watch as the investigation consumes the lives of Ruffalo, the detective on the case, and Downey, a reporter investigating the murders, only for Gyllenhaal’s character, a cartoonist at the same paper as Downey descends down a rabbit hole of clues, reviving the long-dead investigation that destroyed the lives of the other two, but at what cost?

I’ve seen a lot of horror movies in my day, but there’s something about these crime thrillers that chills me to my core. Please consider giving some of these a watch! They will scare you but I know that the artistry beautifully captured in these films will shine through the grim brutality. Each film is a fantastic example of how to tell a personal story no matter how grim and each is also a standout in the catalog of three of the greatest living film directors. So pop some popcorn, curl up under a blanket, and definitely don’t watch these movies alone.

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