‘To have and to hold, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, to love and to cherish, til death do us part.’
It’s a sentence that contains most of the rich themes of toxicity, ownership, enduring love and money problems that seem to be so appealing to thriller writers in both books and film. Whether it’s coercive control, the desire (or lack of desire) for children, infidelity or the long-buried secrets that can exist between two people that choose to contract themselves to each other for life, marriages have been, and always will be full of conflict, drama and sometimes violence. And we can’t get enough of them.
Because however long you spend with another individual, however much you love them, whatever you go through together, you can never really know what’s going on in their head.
Here are some of my favourite movies about marriages and families. Perhaps best to watch these ones with a friend rather than your other half.
6 of the best marriage thriller movies:
The movie that made a whole generation of men in the eighties think twice when opportunities for marital infidelity presented themselves. A film so iconic that ‘bunny-boiler’ is now in the general lexicon. It’s about an arrogant lawyer who cheats on his wife with a woman that becomes obsessed with him and wages a campaign of violence against his family after he rejects her. Glenn Close’s portrayal of the unhinged Alex Forrest is perhaps a little problematic now as her psychology and undiagnosed mental health problems are never really explained, but arguably that makes the underlying power of the story even more terrifying.
‘What have we done to each other?’ asks one of the protagonists of Gillian Flynn’s book that started the domestic noir boom before being adapted into a David Fincher directed master-class. The story captures the descent of a marriage from first-bloom perfection to toxic co-dependence. It plays with the idea that we play a role to win over the person that we want to marry and what can happen when they discover who we really are. Amy Dunne is firmly in the canon of psychopaths you hate to love.
Joel Edgerton’s 2015 marriage thriller wasn’t seen by as many people as it should have been but is one of the best psychological thrillers of recent years. Simon and Robyn Callem move to an LA suburb and bump into someone from Simon’s school, Gordo, who inveigles himself in their lives. To reveal any more would ruin some of the fantastic and entirely believable twists in this story full of lies and decades-old grudges.
Like Gaslight on acid. Polanski’s film, again adapted from a novel, is a horror-thriller that takes society’s overly harsh control of women’s bodies and their reproductive rights all the way to its horrifying conclusion.
This isn’t a great film. BUT the premise – a billionaire wants to pay a financially struggling couple a million dollars to sleep with the wife – is absolute gold-dust. It’s already been loosely remade as Netflix series What/If, but this has to be ripe for a reimagining.
Adapted from Stephen King’s book, Stanley Kubrick adjusted the story to make it more about Jack Nicholson’s demonic antagonist ‘Jack’ seeing his simpering wife and odd-ball child as an impediment to his being a bestselling novelist, than about the possessive power of the haunted Overlook hotel where he’s taken the job as a caretaker. This adjustment gives the film a psychological universality that has made it a modern classic.
What are your favourite marriage thriller movies? Let us know in the comments below!