As we mentioned in our last list of some of the most difficult films you will ever lay your pristine eyeballs on, some movies seem to be made with the central intent of inspiring shock, terror (as the very title of one of the entries in this list explicitly conveys), and abject, bewildered awe in all viewers who happen to stumble into the theatre. Of course, there are normally certain themes at play in the subtext of these films that have less to do with shocking audiences and more to do with expressing something specific about the human condition. As it happens, we have our own little tidbit of content to add to the conversation of the human condition, directed specifically at these filmmakers: sometimes, we watch your movies, and they sting our poor little hearts and eyeballs!
That said, watching a horrifically off-putting film can sometimes do us some good. Our grandparents would argue that recent generations have grown warm and gooey through their unrelenting addiction to comfort. We actually have the nerve to complain about how a certain film made us uncomfortable as we watch it with our buttocks squished over a padded chair, crushing a society of popcorn between our mandibles. Maybe watching these strange films that orbit some place far outside our comfort zones would actually benefit us by helping us realize that not everything in life is so saccharinely commonplace and pleasant. Except for The Human Centipede. There are no rewards to be had from watching that thing.
Anyway, here are 15 more films that are supremely, mind-blastingly difficult to sit through.
15. Requiem for a Dream
Released in 2000, Requiem for a Dream is an American psychological drama film starring Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, and the beloved Jared Leto. It was directed by mister Darren Aronofsky, and was based on the novel of the same name by Hubert Selby, Jr. Widely regarded as one of the most painful depictions of addiction in film, Requiem for a Dream centres on the characters’ struggle as they deal with four different forms of drug addiction, leading them to becoming hollow husks of the people they once were as they are self-imprisoned in a world of horrific desperation. Whether you’re someone who has dealt with drug addiction in one form or another, personally or through a loved one, or just a happy-go-lucky filmgoer who never smoked or drank a thing in your life, Requiem for a Dream is a heartbreaking, soul-extinguishing film that should be watched with a full box of tissues nearby.
14. Passion of the Christ
The subject of widespread notoriety, still talked about to this day, more than 12 years after its release, The Passion of the Christ (otherwise referred to simply as The Passion) is a 2004 drama film directed by Mel Gibson and starring Jim Caviezel in the iconic role of Jesus Christ. The film is a depiction of the Passion of Jesus, sourced largely from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, additionally drawing from other accounts such as the Marian apparitions and the Friday of Sorrows. The film centers on the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life, and the horrific trials that he went through leading to his death. The film received tremendous criticism from Christians worldwide due to its raw depiction of Jesus Christ and the incredible torture inflicted upon him. Regardless of religious beliefs, such brutal treatment of a human being is not an easy watch for any empathetic person.
13. A Clockwork Orange
Released in 1971, A Clockwork Orange is a classic dystopian crime film directed, produced, and adapted from Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel of the same name by legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. The plot revolves largely around the main protagonist of the film, Alex (played by Malcolm McDowell), who is a flamboyant, young social delinquent. After being betrayed by his friends and being apprehended by the law, Alex is made to go through an elaborate reformation program with the intent of transforming him into a model citizen. The film was instantly the subject of widespread, worldwide backlash due to its depiction of sexual violence (sourced from a brutal scene in which a woman was brutally, fully sexually assaulted during a home invasion), and for the incredibly explicit torture scenes. Although the filmmaking is absolutely flawless in every regard, viewers should definitely prepare themselves mentally before watching A Clockwork Orange, as it is an incredibly dark film to take in.
12. Kill Bill (Volumes 1 and 2)
Kill Bill is a martial arts film series released in two parts, both of them written and directed by Quentin Tarrantino. The first volume was released in 2003, and the second in 2004. The film revolves around the journey of Beatrix Kiddo (played by Uma Thurman) as she seeks revenge against criminal mastermind Bill (played by David Carradine) for murdering her family, and it is a journey painted in a consistent stream of blood, with the periodic textural spray of innards and the occasional eyeball pulled from its socket. Being the fourth film by iconic director Quentin Tarantino, mass viewers and critics alike have come to expect a certain explicit style from any film shot by Tarantino; however, that did nothing to halt the significant, widespread gasps that occurred upon the release of both volumes of the film. Several viewers and critics had issues with the films’ unfiltered depiction of violence. We happen to be of the opinion that the violence was necessary in conveying the tone that Tarantino was after; that said, the sheer explicitness of the violence in Kill Bill is certainly far from being an easy watch.
11. Alpha Dog
Released in 2006, Alpha Dog is a crime drama directed by Nick Cassavetes, and featuring an ensemble cast that included several very talented actors, such as Emile Hirsch, Justin Timberlake, Ben Foster, Shawn Hatosy, Anton Yelchin, the lovely Olivia Wilde and Amanda Seyfried, as well as Harry Dean Stanton, Sharon Stone, and Bruce Willis. In the film, teenage drug dealer Johnny Truelove (played by Hirsch) and his gang kidnap the younger brother (Zach Macursky, played by Yelchin) of one of his customers who has an outstanding drug debt. It was a move that no one in the gang was truly committed to, and things escalated quickly throughout the film until the climax (SPOILER), where Mazursky is murdered by one of the gang members. Audiences are made to develop a strong sense of attachment to Mazursky throughout the film, and it’s his tragic death that makes this one a singularly difficult watch.
10. The Butterfly Effect
Released in 2004, The Butterfly Effect is an American psychological thriller film penned and shot by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, and starring Ashton Kutcher and Amy Smart. As rich in conceptual depth as it is in truly unfortunate circumstances, The Butterfly Effect revolves around college student Evan Treborn (played by Kutcher) and his childhood sweetheart Kayleigh Miller (played by Smart). Evan realizes that he has been gifted with the ability to travel back in time, meaning that his adult mind can venture back through time to inhabit his younger self, thus altering the space-time continuum of the future. The film basically shows Evan falling into unfortunate circumstances through different timelines, and travelling back so that he can fix things for himself. Some of these timelines show scenes that are incredibly difficult to watch, including Evan being close to sexual assault in a prison, and particularly one scene where Evan’s childhood friend burns his dog alive. This is definitely not a film for the faint of heart, particularly if you’re a dog lover.
9. The Lion King
Everyone’s favorite animated movie about lions, The Lion King is an epic musical animated film released in 1994 and produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation, representing the 32nd Disney animated feature film. The story takes place in the animal kingdom of Africa, and focuses mostly on the lion subculture therein. Largely based on the classic Shakespeare play Hamlet, The Lion King tells the tale of Simba, a prince lion cub who is to be the lion king of the Pride Lands when his father’s time has passed. The Lion King is filled with fun, colour, sweet music, and laughter for all ages, but we all know about the extremely pivotal, extremely heartbreaking scene in the film. We’re talking, of course, about Mufasa’s murder at the hands of his brother, Scar. All viewers, particularly the poor children, had a hard time watching beloved, strong Mufasa falling down the mountain into the wild stampede, to his death. It certainly scarred us as children, and we’re having a hard time even writing about it. R.I.P., Mufasa.
Directed by Pascal Laugier and released in 2008, Martyrs is a 2008 French-Canadian film depicting a young woman’s path of depravity as she embarks on a journey for revenge. Lucie, the main protagonist of the film, was once imprisoned in an icy torture chamber in a vacant slaughterhouse, tormented by a sadistic family. With the help of her friend Anna, she seeks to track down the family so that she can get some sweet vengeance. However, as they dig deeper and deeper into the roots of Lucie’s oppressors, they being to realize that they’re dealing with something much larger than they had initially imagined. The film shows incredibly raw scenes of violence, and critics and audiences worldwide were quick to regard it as one of the most controversial films in recent years. Critic Ryan Rotten wrote that Martyrs “is the new yard stick against which all forms of extreme genre films should be measured against.”
7. The Human Centipede (First Sequence)
Depending on your views regarding human excrement, this is arguably the most difficult-to-swallow (sorry) film on this list. Released in 2009, The Human Centipede (First Sequence) is a Dutch horror thriller directed, written, and co-produced by Tom Six. Put simply, the film centers around a psychopathic German surgeon who kidnaps three tourists and links all three of them together surgically, with mouth attached to anus. Thus, the trio form a veritable “human centipede.” Of course, the very nature of a “human centipede” like the one depicted in the film implies that the fecal matter from the top and middle parts of the centipede must inevitably pass through a certain… alternative canal, by law. If you are going to watch this movie (which we highly advise you don’t), you should definitely think about not eating anything at all for several hours beforehand. But really, you can go ahead and skip this one.
6. Heaven Knows What
Released in 2014, Heaven Knows What is a drama directed by brother Ben and Joshua Safdie. The film stars Arielle Holmes, and is based on her unpublished memoir detailing her time spent as a heroin addict living homeless in New York. In fact, Holmes was initially spotted panhandling by Josh Safdie, and her story inspired him to make this film. Heaven Knows What features admittedly shoddy camerawork and lighting, however its true strength lies in the rawness of its characters and dialogue and the strength of its actors’ performances. Holmes is particularly interesting to watch in every scene she’s in, which is no big surprise, since she actually lived a version of the events in the film. With its incredibly intimate look into the life of a homeless drug addict, the film is particularly difficult to take in because it exposes an aspect of our culture that most of us tend to ignore on a day-by-day basis.
5. Enter The Void
Enter the Void, directed by Gaspar Noé and released in 2009, is a French drama film (shot in English) starring Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, and Cyril Roy. The film follows Oscar (Brown), an American drug dealer living in Tokyo, who eventually gets shot by the police. However, being the main protagonist of the film, Oscar joins the audience as he watches the rest of the film’s events transpire. Shot iconically from a first-person perspective, the audience feels as though it’s in the head of Oscar throughout the events of the story, making Enter the Void a particularly eerie watch, especially after Oscar is shot dead. Since we as viewers are sharing Oscar’s perspective, we feel as though we’re dying slightly at the same time that he does, and we join him in maneuvring through the hazy ether to see what his friends and loved ones are up to.
4. Birdemic: Shock and Terror
Although the title of Birdemic: Shock and Terror apparently indicates that the film intended to strike shock and terror into the hearts of all filmgoers who had the misfortune of seeing this movie, it accomplished its apparent goal for other reasons. Birdemic: Shock and Terror is a singularly shocking and terrifying film because it is uniquely, shockingly horrifying, and its production value is terrifyingly poor in ways that have seldom been seen before in film. In short, this movie tells the story of a romance that brews between two small town characters. However, their romance and everything else in their surroundings is disturbed by a horrific epidemic of savage birds, or a Birdemic, if you will. With absolutely laughable acting, dialogue, and plot framing, Birdemic: Shock and Terror is revered by film fanatics as one of those movies that are so bad, they’re actually good. However, we’re of the opinion that it’s just super difficult to watch.
Another art drama film written and shot by visionary director Gaspar Noé, Irréversible was released in 2002 and stars Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, and Albert Dupontel. It features a largely non-linear narrative that tracks two men wandering through the streets of Paris seeking vengeance for the brutal sexual assault of a girlfriend. The film has been indoctrinated into the avant-garde form of cinematic storytelling thanks to its extensive filming innovations. More than that, however, Irréversible is vastly regarded as one of the most brutally, graphically violent films in cinematic history, featuring painful, extremely raw scenes of death along with a 10-minute long take of Alex (played by Bellucci) being totally, mercilessly sexually assaulted. Irréversible has inspired late film critic Roger Ebert to say that it is “a movie so violent and cruel that most people will find it unwatchable.” In our opinion, the film is more artful than it is repulsive, so it’s definitely worth a watch. Just don’t expect anything overly pleasant.
2. Brokeback Mountain
Released in 2005, Brokeback Mountain is an American romantic drama directed by Ang Lee and starring Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, and Michelle Williams. Brokeback Mountain revolves around the romantic, sexual, and emotional relationship between Ennis Del Mar (played by Ledger) and Jack Twist (played by Gyllenhaal) in the largely homophobic time and place of the American West from 1963 to 1983. The film was the subject of a vast amount of controversy upon its release, mostly due to its portrayal of a same-sex relationship. However, that’s far from the reason that the film is on this list. Its inclusion here is based largely on the brutal scene near the end of the film, where (SPOILERS) Jack’s wife tells Ennis during a phone conversation that Jack died in an accident while he was a changing a tire. However, as the conversation progresses, images of Jack being brutally beaten to death by three men flash across the screen. The film portrayed a pure, true love between Jack and Ennis, and that love was cut brutally short in the most violent way possible. It’s hard to think about, and certainly hard to watch.
1. Synecdoche New York
Released in 2008, Synecdoche, New York is an American postmodern film that represents the directorial debut of mister Charlie Kaufman. No stranger to writing material that pierces down from the skull and into the deepest realms of the heart, Synecdoche, New York is an existential masterpiece that sheds a light on the persistent futility of being alive. That’s one way of looking at the film, anyway. The truth is that this movie is so texturally deep and thematically rich that you can talk about the subtextual topics it covers for days on end. To us, however, this film, like Kaufman’s other works, puts us face to face with nihilistic energies that are all around us all the time, but are far too painful to face. If you think that life is an endlessly vast, depthlessly beautiful thing, you have a reason to watch this film, and a reason to avoid it completely.
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