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(Some Of) My Favourite Disturbing Movies

I've have had excruciating writer's block due to depression and just general exhaustion so I'm doing an easy post where I don't have to do research and just get to state my opinions. I want to talk about some films that have made me feel viscerally ill, have made me hide my head behind a pillow and have stuck with me hours after watching them, usually for a bad reason.

Last year, I wanted to do a fully comprehensive piece on the appeal of disturbing cinema but it never really came together, despite my research and effort, and I was really disappointed because I do feel I have a lot to say about what I personally find disturbing and why I often like films in spite of this.  

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

No one does quiet brutality like Lynne Ramsey and her interpretation of the novel of the same name manages to unnerve me in a different way every time I watch it. On some watches, it's the deathly fear of motherhood or even worse, failing at said task and being actively blamed for it. On another, I'll be terrified of Kevin, of how inhuman he is, of how he is a pure concentration of the main character's cruelty and how we are just as powerless as Eva to his actions. On another, I will be haunted by the complete ineffability of the violence, how we barely see it and are therefore unable to process it, how we don't get the catharsis of frankness and are simply stuck with our own impotence.

Mysterious Skin (2004)

A memory is subjective, which is not the same as it being false. This is the lesson that this film teaches us and it's one that is incredibly hard to learn. Surprisingly, this is one of the last of Gregg Araki's films I watched, despite being his most popular. Araki has a distinct way of creating narratives, remaining almost aimless in execution but not without purpose - we come to understand the subjectivity of experience, something that is as true of the more chaotic Nowhere (1997) as it is to this film. How to depict sexual assault, particularly child abuse, is tricky and incredibly harmful if done poorly, so believe me when I say that this is one of the most empathetic films about sexual violence I've ever seen, choosing what to show carefully and respecting its main characters' point of view constantly. A devastating watch and an absolute blessing to even exist.

Elephant (2003)

I didn't mean to have two films about school shootings on this list but I'm choosing to include this because it's so vastly different from We Need To Talk About Kevin that I'll have something interesting to say, I promise. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I spent most of my time watching this film with my whole body tensed, on the verge of throwing up. Deliberate and terrifying, this film makes you wait and wait for what you already know is going to happen, even before the children do, and then makes you bare witness in excruciating detail. I have only seen this once. I only intend to see this once. I do think it's essential viewing in how it refuses a singular narrative and wants the audience to engage in the dread that comes from questions without simple answers.

Kotoko (2011)

I feel like I think about this film every couple of weeks. How it's horrifying and bloody and deeply unsettling, but also weirdly funny and incredibly sad. It's another film that deals with the multiplicity of experience, taking us through one woman's anguish over her identity as a parent where the only point of this journey is to try and empathise. When you constantly feel on the verge of ruining everything, of going crazy, and you feel incredibly alone with these experiences, it can be strangely comforting to see that reflected back at you, even if it is harsh and depressing. 

Survival Skills (2020)

Probably the film on this list that no one has seen, Survival Skills fully floored me. The way it uses form to talk about the police and the way they handle domestic violence is potent and shocking. So often, films trick us into viewing characters one way and then flip them into something different but this takes it to another level, creating a creeping sense of helplessness that permeates the film, undermining the typical narrative true to the police procedural. Who can save the day when the bureaucracy of this violence is structured against victims of it, when it is pretty much impossible to help someone genuinely in need?