Constant pursuits, near captures, and repeated escapes are what make a cat and mouse game one of the most enthralling plot devices of thrillers. The evasive actions and taunting behavior between the pursuer and perpetrator means that the unknown lies around every corner, providing fiery intensity as the two continue to slip out of one another’s grasp. Therefore, rather than just fixating on physical violence and harm, these movies place importance on understanding the mindas this knowledge usually determines the victory of the hunter or the hunted.
Throughout the years, cat and mouse game thrillers have developed into compelling stories, containing twists that force one to question the characters’ surroundings and sanity. On the other hand, they are complex, blurring the line between good and evil to question of what it really means to win the chase. Nevertheless, these films contain heavy tension that hauls audiences to the edge of their seats from the first glimpse to the very last second. So, let’s look at the best thrillers with a cat and mouse pursuit.
Seven (stylized as Se7en) stars Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as two detectives racing to track down a deadly serial killer (Kevin Spacey) who uses the seven deadly sins as his calling card. Within this film, like most cat and mouse thrillers, the killer always appears to be one step ahead, taunting the increasingly frustrated officers with cryptic clues and managing to countlessly evade the police, only handing himself over when he desires to be caught. There is a strong psychological aspect throughout David Fincher’s hit film, focusing on the psyches of the detectives but also the clear madness of the murderer, though his crimes are conducted consciously and meticulously. Rather than sporadic actions, this killer’s movements are intricately planned in the sight of a greater goal, causing him to be unpredictable and almost impossible to catch. Consequently, despite understanding the pattern of the deadly sins, Pitt and Freeman are helpless to do anything but to fall into Spacey’s plan as the hope of understanding the criminal’s mentality is one in vain.
Ultimately, Pitt’s execution of Spacey in revenge for his murdered wife completes the killer’s plan, forming the question of whom the real victor is in this cat and mouse game. With the execution, the detective has effectively stopped the murderer for good, however, would the killer have stopped his violent torment now that the sins were completed, or would the chase have pursued with another motive? This question of control and morality is what made Seven such a commercial and critical success, earning praise for the gripping performances and haunting journey to the finale.
5 The Game
Control allows one to feel in charge and takes away the insecurity of the unknown. However, The Game exemplifies how quickly life can spiral into madness when a person loses power over themselves. Another in a string of brilliant films from David Fincher, The Game tells the story of a wealthy but uptight investment banker, Nicholas (Michael Douglas), who is given a voucher to a game by his brother, Conrad (Sean Penn). Initially harmless, the game steadily integrates with his real life, presenting mortal danger and driving the man to the brink of insanity. The entirety of the film holds a tense pressure as Nicholas struggles to discern between what is real and the things that seek to destroy him.
Subsequently, there is a mental torment to the Douglas character, as his existence becomes harrowing without any apparent way to stop it (reminiscent of the Book of Job). The man who had everything is suddenly stripped down to nothing and forced into a pursuit with an unknown aggressor harboring an unclear motive, leaving him no choice but to act blindly in order to save his life. Therefore, when the conclusion of The Game turns out to be just that, a game, there is a sense of growth and satisfaction as Nicholas no longer cares for material possessions but rather is thankful for the return of his peace of mind. The greatest fears he ever held have been played out before his eyes and he survived, allowing him to break out of his shell of bitterness and instead embrace life.
4 The Prestige
The Prestige is a mystery thriller film that takes the word ‘rivalry’ to a deadly level. Starring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as magicians Robert Angier and Alfred Borden, the movie follows the competitive relationship between the two as they fight to produce the best stage illusion, even if it means fatal results. Disturbing and provocative, The Prestige contains numerous twists and turns as the obsession to be the best starts to override family, friendships, and love. With the feud initially starting with Angier blaming Borden for the drowning of his wife, it escalates into a toxic cat and mouse game of ego and pride as each man uses deceit, injustice, and immorality to achieve the status of the better magician.
As a result, the recognition of men’s intrinsic talents is dependent on the credibility of their rival and, therefore, they are never truly able to realize the depth of their own skills; they are stuck in a co-dependent dance. Ultimately, the feud finally ends with the death of Angier surrounded by dozens of his clones and the hanging of Borden’s secret twin brother. There is no doubt that death was the only way for the bitterness between the two magicians to end; however, there is a question of whether this destructive conclusion was worth the means. David Bowie makes a short but phenomenal appearance as Nikola Tesla in this devious cat and mouse thriller from Christopher Nolan.
3 The Silence of the Lambs
Starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, the iconic psychological horror film The Silence of the Lambs questions to what extent a killer can be trusted. Within the film, a young FBI trainee, Clarice Starling (Foster), hunts down a serial killer named Buffalo Bill, and in order to catch him, she seeks the advice of imprisoned Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins), a psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. The relationship between Starling and Lecter is what makes this movie so unique and gripping. One is a young detective and another a ferocious, merciless murderer, yet they both depend on each other (a frequent theme of the perverse relationship between cat and mouse), Starling for information and Lecter to ultimately break out of prison.
There is a back and forth between them as Hannibal taunts the detective into revealing traumatic memories in exchange for information about Buffalo Bill, and the frustration from Starling of having only a killer to rely on as a means to catch another. However, there is also a mutual understanding between the two as they both work to suppress their natural instincts (her fear to escape him and his inclination for violence) for the purpose of achieving what they need. Equally, they are submissive to one another while simultaneously having the upper hand, forming an almost choreographed relationship where both understand the mind and actions of the other. This unique take on the relationship between a killer and detective is why The Silence of the Lambs has consistently been labeled as one of the greatest and most influential films of all time, and became the third and last film so far to win Academy Awards in all the major five categories.
2 Escape Room
Escape rooms are meant to be an enjoyable experience that brings people together, however, this film replaces the fun with fatality. Escape Room follows a group of young people, all with a traumatic past, who are sent to navigate a series of deadly escape rooms. Usually, these kinds of places hold a level of intensity while also having the security of knowing you will come out the other side unscathed; however, this grisly, great movie takes away any scraps of assurance from its characters and instead guarantees your doom if you fail.
As the rooms become increasingly harder to figure out, the group starts to become fragmented, stifled with pressure and panic as they work to break out of the lethal spaces and find the unidentified game master, who controls the participants like puppets. The nameless and faceless tormentor means that the group are forced to act instinctively, tragically losing people along the way until finally, the remaining survivors come face to face with the person who had been happily terrorizing them. However, even after their apparent victory over their aggressor, the words ‘No Way Out’ scribbled on the wall informs the remaining participants that they are still stuck in the game, providing the unsettling question, what is actually real? If the game master could cover up an elaborate escape room, then what could he do to their lives?
In the action thriller movie, Non-Stop, Liam Neeson gives a strong performance as a Federal Air Marshal who must find a killer on an international flight after receiving the terrifying text that someone on board will be executed every 20 minutes until a sum of $ 150 million has been paid. In a constant race against time, Neeson must work with merely a short message as his only clue to finding the culprit and a small interval to save a life. This, coupled with the cramped and enclosed space of the airplane, builds steady tension throughout the film, and since there are no ideas of the killer’s appearance or motive, everyone becomes a suspect. It’s hard to be a mouse when everyone could be a cat.
Eventually, after the criminals are found out, there is still high uncertainty whether the plane will land safely or if the terrorist will take the other passengers down in their demise. With bullets flying and bomb clocks counting down, Neeson is given another fixed time period to disarm the bomb and terrorists before everyone on board perishes. Non-Stop captivates its audience until the very last moment and, while the film itself received mixed reviews, Neeson was praised for his powerful and bold performance.
We take a look back at actor Liam Neeson’s ten best movies over the course of his enduring career, from Taken to Schindler’s List.
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