Film & TV

8 scariest backpacker films — because it’s really scary when people are the monsters

There’s something romantic about putting life on hold, packing up all your things, and seeing the world. Or even just one part of it. It’s liberating and inspiring, even thrilling. Something forms in the pit of your stomach — a mix of excitement and anxiety, a bit of fear, too. In some films, the fear is real and comes in all sorts of shapes. If nothing scares you anymore, maybe these movies will.

The Beach 

Alex Garland and Danny Boyle made a baby, and it’s one of the most memorable, quotable, meme-able movies ever made. Set in Thailand, the movie follows a backpacking Leonardo DiCaprio as Richard. He stumbles upon a map that supposedly leads to a secret beach, a map to paradise. He follows it, not knowing that perhaps paradise didn’t want to be found. The Beach is not a horror film, but it’s full of terrifying moments that shine a light on the human condition. The most intense scene, where Richard battles a shark, almost seems like a joke — but it is scary none the less. Tilda Swinton plays Sal, paradise’s landlord of sorts, and her tyranny is half the movie’s horror.

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Brokedown Palace

Kate Beckinsdale and Claire Danes travel to Thailand and end up being sentenced to 33 years in Thai prison for possession of heroine. Heroine that wasn’t theirs. The fact that they are women, white, young and naive adds to the tension. You actually fear for them because they are portrayed as precious and innocent, thrown into a filthy hell hole for criminals whose tendencies to terrorize are exaggerated for effect. It’s the absolute worst thing that could happen to any traveler, to be imprisoned in a foreign country with nothing and no one. If you like Locked Up Abroad, you’ll probably enjoy the anxiety you’ll get from this one.


Horny teenagers take note: be careful who you hook up with abroad. The movie was created pre-Tinder — imagine the possibilities today. College students Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson) are traveling across Europe, and the come across odd characters that lead them to odd places, including an abandoned building where tourists are lured to be tortured and maimed to satisfy fetishes. Everyone in the movie looks suspicious, (except for Hernandez, who looks like a baby angel even as Diablo from Suicide Squad).


What if the people you partied with last night ended up roofie-ing you and cutting out your kidney to sell to the black market? Sounds insane, right? Insane, but not unlikely. The scariest thing about backpacker horror films is that they can actually happen and they do happen. There are no ghosts, no Babadooks, just people. Not even shirtless Josh Duhamel can make this film any less exhausting and traumatic.

Berlin Syndrome

Teresa Palmer is great in this. She plays an Australian photojournalist traveling solo in Berlin. She meets a charming stranger, a chance meeting on the street. They part ways, and then meet again “by accident” and decide to spend some time together. She comes home with him, and ends up being a hostage in this obsessed man’s apartment. The worst part is when she realizes she can’t get out — the look on her face when she realizes the windows will not break. It’s a quiet, slow-paced film, but the tension lies in the details. You almost feel like you’re trapped with her.

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Wolf Creek

Not the biggest fan of Wolf Creek, but as far as scary traveler films go, it should make the list. A car breaking down in the middle of nowhere is never a good sign. A strange man offering help? Maybe, think twice. Maybe just wait it out, spend the night in the car. They were probably scared of aliens or wild animals, but its the people that are really scary. Opposable thumbs, man. They can do tons of damage.


Considering the timing, Catacombs is making this list. A young woman goes to Paris for the first time and gets dragged into a — literally — underground party by her friends, deep in the catacombs. She gets separated from them, and is convinced that something is chasing her. More than anything, it’s the isolation and hopelessness that makes this a real horror. No one can get to you, you can’t get to anyone. It’s an absolute nightmare.

CATACOMBS, Shannyn Sossamon, 2007. ©Lions Gate


Liam Neeson should be on the Avengers as Liam Neeson for what he did in this movie alone. Who hasn’t seen Taken? In case you haven’t, it’s about a father with a very specific set of skills, on a mission to save his kidnapped daughter. In a way, it’s a revenge movie that tells a very important message: be alert, be prepared, and just say no.


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