7 Thrillers Set In Small-Town America

1. BLUE RUIN (2013).

Upon hearing of the release of a convict, a homeless man (Macon Blair) travels to his hometown to exact bloodthirsty revenge for the deaths of his parents. In Jeremy Saulnier and Macon Blair, we have a director–actor partnership that is sure to last, not least for Saulnier’s unquestionable assurance behind the camera — his most recent work, Green Room, will certainly back that up — and Blair’s unassuming, albeit brutal, characterisation on screen.

Sling Blade 2. SLING BLADE (1996).

A mentally disabled man (Billy Bob Thornton) is released from the hospital in which he has spent the majority of his life for murdering his mother. Soon after his release, he forms a close bond with a boy whose father committed suicide. I wasn’t much of a fan of Billy Bob Thornton before seeing Sling Blade, but I was sure to recant all previous views afterwards. His portrayal of our mentally disabled protagonist is simply unmerciful in its attempt to stay true to an otherwise complicated character.

A History of Violence 3. A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005).

The owner (Viggo Mortensen) of a diner kills, without hesitation, two violent criminals who attempt to rob him. As a result of the extensive news coverage regarding his heroic actions, a stranger (Ed Harris), believing that the owner is a long-missing mobster from Philadelphia, arrives in town and begins to threaten him and his family. With the mastery of David Cronenberg orchestrating the picture (and, as we come to expect, his typical brand of blood and guts) and, well, Viggo Mortensen starring, whose film career seems to be going from strength to strength, I was sold.

Fargo Film 4. FARGO (1996).

A car salesman (William H. Macy) who has gotten himself into debt hires two thugs to kidnap his wife, believing that her wealthy father will pay the ransom. When it comes to the Coen brothers, it is difficult to anticipate what to expect. On the one hand, they have given us No Country For Old Men and The Big Lebowski, for which we are eternally grateful; on the other hand, we have been subjected to The Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty. Fortunately, Fargo was everything one would want from a black comedy/crime thriller set in rural America.

Mississippi Burning 5. MISSISSIPPI BURNING (1988).

Two FBI agents (Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe) are sent to a small Mississippi town to investigate the disappearance of a group of civil rights workers, only to be met by local authorities who refuse to cooperate. As well as the first-rate, crime-fighting duo, Alan Parker, the much acclaimed director of such films as Angel Heart, Midnight Express, and The Life of David Gale, again tackles a sensitive subject — civil rights in the Deep South — and tackles it with finesse, being sure to pack the punches where necessary. 

Prisoners Film 6. PRISONERS (2013).

After two young girls go missing from a quiet neighbourhood, a lonesome, unrelenting detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) investigates tirelessly. Bar none, Denis Villeneuve is one of the finest directors working in cinema today. As with Sicario, Enemy, and Incendies, Villeneuve sits the viewer down for a masterclass in visual storytelling. This man was one of the few men who could take on such a herculean task as Blade Runner 2

A Simple Plan 7. A SIMPLE PLAN (1998).

Two brothers (Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton) and their friend discover a crashed plane, the contents of which comprise a dead pilot and more than $4 million, in the woods near their hometown. It is no surprise that A Simple Plan has a Coen-like feel to it, given that Joel Coen worked for the director, Sam Raimi, as an assistant editor in the early 1980s, notably on The Evil Dead. Like such works as Fargo, this burns slowly, offers the grit and mettle typical of the Coen brothers, and centres upon a chunk of money and everyone’s greed and desire to obtain said money.