5 Disturbing Movies with Substance
*Note: Three out of these five movies are banned on multiple countries, and watching them is a criminal act. Good luck finding them online :)
*Other note: A reminder that these films are all shot professionally and all things depicted in these movies are not actually real.
Shock value, discomfort, and sick imagery are valuable tools in filmmaking, that if used right, can garner amazing results. When thinking of movies made with the intention of disturbing audiences, two types come to mind: the human centipede-esque shock with no substance ‘grindhouse’ movies, and the richer Clockwork Orange-esque ‘arthouse’ type of films. But there's a third, more sinister category of disturbing films, works of art that combine the obscene and gratuitous imagery of the grindhouse movies with the enriched themes and substance of the arthouse films. These are often the kind of movies that get banned in multiple countries and become infamous within the film community. Here is a short list of my top five picks.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
This found-footage styled gore fest can be best described by telling the story of its aftermath. The movie’s director was put in prison for two nights after the film’s release due to people believing the actors in the film had actually been killed and eaten on camera (which they were not). The movies documentary template tricks the viewer into believing what they are watching to be real. Like most films on this list, Cannibal Holocaust has deep themes fused within it’s violence and graphic images. It explores themes of exploitation and the idea of superficially helping others for nothing more than recognition.
A Serbian Film (2010)
This mix of ultra-violence and pornography can be dismissed as sheer shock value, but having such a unique style intertwined with themes of nihilism and self-loathing; all the while being one big allegory to the director/writer’s homeland of Serbia, and serving as a movie wide meta-commentary on disturbing films, I can’t help but admire the craft within A Serbian Film. It’s transgressive nature and technical wonders amaze me for such a low budget directorial debut. That being said, some of the most notorious scenes in the film include the raping of a newborn baby, and our protagonist being forced to rape a woman, then decapitate her and continue to violate her headless torso. It becomes understandable why the film is unwatchable for many and dismissed by most.
This historically inaccurate retelling of the life of the legendary Roman emperor, Caligula, is a feat for filmmaking. The movies sets and recreation of the iconic era were revolutionary for 1979, regardless of it’s effects and production design, the only historically accurate element in the film is Caligula, whose violent antics and sexual palette is chillingly unsettling. The film’s initial reviews were all negative, but through time it has become a cult classic. The movie has significant political merit, and it’s funny to think that the titular character is played by the same actor who played Alex in A Clockwork Orange.
RAW (2017) (Netflix)
The only entry on the list available on Netflix, RAW is the story of a vegetarian who through a series of events becomes a full-on cannibal. The premise alone could make a great thriller, but it’s the film's execution and style that differentiate it. The movie holds many layers, themes, and allegories, which make it a piece more thought-provoking than it should be. Although it does not have the same amount of gore or shock value as the other entries in the list it is definitely a deeply disturbing movie and one that will leave each viewer with a different train of thought.
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
The most mainstream of the movies, and by far the better known one, Requiem for a Dream is one of my favorite movies, and at least for me, the last 15 minutes of that film are still harder to watch than any other scene of any movie on this list. Following four different characters, each in their unique down spiraling journey, the movie is shot in a jarring style of distortion and subjectivity. This movie feels unlike any other and is an amazing example of style and substance intertwined to make a masterpiece of a final product. The themes of addiction and self-destruction are portrayed beautifully, and if you asked me, I would add this film to the Ched curriculum early on.