Unless you're watching a film that begins with the words "The Purge", chances are you're in a for a pleasurable experience. Due to marketing for films, you know whether you're hoping to laugh, cry or hide behind a pillow/significant other. The film may spark inspiration in you, pushing you to change the world. Hell, you might even just hear a brilliant joke in it that you can pass onto coworkers the next day (probably crucifying the impeccable comedy timing that it needs). One thing you won't want is to see the credits roll and be completely lost off with what in the fresh hell is happening.
We've all been there, in the comforting new world this movie has created, basking in the familiarity of the new friends we've made and everything seeming rosy. Then it happens. You are torn from the warmth only to be thrown into a cold place and slapped around the face. Maybe it was a Shyamalan twist that is thrown at you that completely went over your head. It could be an actor that usually makes you laugh, brutally murdering someone with an axe. Curveballs are thrown at us in movies all the time, but some of them are complete and utter head-scratchers. Here, we discuss (with spoilers for most of these films) fifteen films that will leave you pondering, for one reason or another, "what the hell just happened?"
15 The Matrix Revolutions
The first installment in The Matrix trilogy was a slice of genius. When it was initially released you wore a badge of triumph depending on how many viewings it took for you to understand it and could probably slip itself into this list. When the franchise had sequels announced there was due hype. Unfortunately that hype was met with a mess of convoluted plot points and bizarre robotic fights in order to save the real world... or something?
14 Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom
120 Days of Sodom is based on the book by the same name by Marquis De Sade, so you may feel quite intelligent by watching it. You'd be very wrong. The film is a pure guessing game from beginning to end as to what the motivations were when they sat down and pitched this movie. You know those internet videos that you show your friends specifically to make them feel sick? This is a two hour and twenty-five minute version of one of those. Think two girls, one cup but with more faeces and sniper rifles.
This list wouldn't be complete without Inception would it? There is an entire episode of South Park that rips into the premise of Christopher Nolan's dream-hopping epic and, when that happens, you know you've made it. The whole film is striking, there is no argument about that. Take the visuals as an example, the scene in which Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page walk through a folding dream city was breathtaking and is one of the only scenes that should be watched in 3D on a screen bigger than your house. Linked in with every aesthetic choice is the story line, which is just as impressive (if at times confusing) as any other element of the film.
12 Fight Club
Fight Club is the original "what the hell happened" movie. Once you wrap your head around the final revelation that Tyler Durden is a manifestation of the narrator's mind, you may think that there isn't that much else to figure out. It is only when you consider the implications of this monumental plot twist that you really start to question just how deep this film goes. You have to watch it again with the mindset that Brad Pitt isn't actually there and that everything that both he and Ed Norton do... is done by the narrator. Go back and watch the film and try and figure out how that works.
11 One Hour Photo
When the news came through about Robin Williams' untimely death, it was devastating to say the least. The legacy he left behind was monumental and most of it was comedic genius. There are elements of Mrs. Doubtfire and Good Morning Vietnam that will forever be ingrained in my head. On top of this, there was his serious work - Dead Poets Society remains one of my favourite films to this day. One genre that Williams very rarely dipped into was thriller films but, when he did, my good god he was creepy.
10 Donnie Darko
If I've said it once I'll say it a million times: Jake Gyllenhaal does not make run of the mill films. Jarhead, End of Watch and Southpaw are not your typical war, cop and boxing film are they? That is not to say that they aren't out of this world. Donnie Darko is no exception to this trend. Due to its format and style, Donnie Darko achieved cult status very quickly and the image of Donnie sat with the man in a rabbit suit named "Frank" became iconic. It's not as if this film is the easiest to follow though.
9 Freeze Frame
Many of you, particularly if you're American, will have only seen Lee Evans in the likes of Mousehunt and There's Something About Mary. In England, however, Lee Evans has been one of the biggest comedians of the past twenty five years. If you have yet to see him, please I beg of you, YouTube him or buy his DVDs. You will not be disappointed. However, much like many of the comedians on this list, he had taken a foray into the weird and sinister. Freeze Frame is a British film that seems relatively unknown. The effort to get an image of it was monumental.
8 The Machinist
In the space of six films, Christian Bale's massive weight shift is well documented. At his biggest, he cultivated 90 kilograms of mass for The Dark Knight Rises, needing every ounce to fight off Tom Hardy's Bane. At his smallest, Bale dropped down to a painfully skinny 55 kilograms in order to portray Trevor Reznik in The Machinist. Considering the healthy weight for a man of Bale's age is around 75 kilos, you have to admire his commitment to the role. Reznik's dangerously low weight is due to his worsening insomnia, that leads to the films main plot line. The Machinist is a look at the self and what is in our heads compared to reality - that deep, crippling existential dread.
Amnesia is always shaky ground when it comes to movies. It can be such a tacked on "gimmick" of; who am I, where's my wife, flashback, sudden realisation, I have the skills now that I always had, the end. Thankfully, Memento didn't follow this overly simplistic and often cheesy plot line. Based on director Christopher Nolan's book Memento Mori, psychological thriller Memento jumps backwards and forwards as Guy Pearce's Leonard attempts to uncover who murdered and raped his wife. The only downside is that Leonard has no short term memory, whatsoever. Sounds like this may be a bit of a no-hoper right? Well, you don't know Leonard.
6 The Beach
American traveller on a bit of a gap year in search of himself... it's a story that becomes increasingly more popular in real life - and yet no-one seems to end up in a secret community on an otherwise deserted island. This is what lies ahead for a young Leonardo DiCaprio, when an Academy Award seemed like a bear-battling pipe dream, despite multiple outstanding performances. The film sees a Lord of the Flies style battle for power between the inhabitants of the island, that includes murdering sharks and mercy killings. There is one particular moment in this film which has lodged it securely on this list.
5 Goodnight Mommy
This film comes with a bit of a disclaimer. There are some people who don't want to watch foreign language films, having to read subtitles as well as watch the movie. If this is the case, then this film is not for you. If not, let us continue. The Austrian film Goodnight Mommy was dubbed by some online media outlets as having the scariest trailer ever. While the film was in no way the scariest film to grace the big screen, it is up there with some of the most intriguing. Audiences are given very little in the way of information at the beginning of the film. We know the mother has been in for plastic surgery and that she lives in a relatively, but not totally, isolated house with her twin boys. It also quickly becomes apparent that she is a bit of a bitch.
4 Ex Machina
With Ex Machina, one of the things that will leave you with your jaw on the floor is how aesthetically pleasing the whole experience is. The magnum opus of the entire movie is the robot body cleverly crafted around Alicia Vikander's actual human body to create Ava. Ava is the focus of the film, there to have her consciousness tested by a young programmer by the name of Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson). What follows is a peculiar test set up by Ava's creator, played by Oscar Issac, and all is not as it seems. What should be a simple Turing test and a week spent with a legend in Caleb's industry turns into something much more sinister.
3 Kill List
For me, British film is something that has gone from strength to strength in recent years. It's because of this surge forward in popularity and quality that the likes of Kill List can be made. Kill List is the story of two hitmen, who are given the names of three different people that they see off in brutal ways. As they take out their targets, the pair's characters become evident. The protagonist Jay (Neil Maskell) has serious issues with his anger, displayed in his ruthless treatment of his victims and his wife Shel. Michael Smiley plays the easier going (as easy going as a hitman can be) of the two who, despite getting Jay back in the killing game, attempts to keep his head level.
2 Dead Man's Shoes
Shane Meadows is the king of gritty, raw cinema. This Is England is a brutal story of skinheads in 1980s England and his follow up did not veer away from the style. Dead Man's Shoes tells the story of a soldier and his mentally-challenged younger brother, who both return to their home town. The return is not a happy one as Richard (Paddy Considine) exacts his revenge on the thuggish inhabitants of the town for abusing his younger brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell) while he was away serving in the army. This film is not for the faint of heart and it is not because of the ways in which Richard takes out his fury on the people that made Anthony's life difficult.
I would like to level with you as I write this final entry. I prefer to write about films that I have seen all the way through. There are some I may not have seen for a long time but I have made it through. I cannot say the same for Primer. There are some films that are hard to wrap your head around and that isn't a problem, because it is enjoyable to figure them out. Primer is, at its core, a time travel movie. It focuses on two engineers who create a time machine that begs the question, should you tamper with time? This film does have elements of your "typical" time travel movies. The creators have a falling out over the usage of the machine. There is a moment where they travel back in time to change an event to their liking. They repeat that moment until they get it right. There are, however, some major differences to your regular "The question isn't where are we but WHEN are we?" movie.
I am by no means belittling this film, Primer won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance film festival, but it is the nature of the film that left me with a bald patch from scratching my head so much. Director/producer/writer/protagonist of the film Shane Carruth was an engineer before he became a multi faceted film maker and has a degree in mathematics - and boy oh boy does that shine through in this film. Carruth refused to dumb down the technical language in the movie. It is a film that you will probably have to take notes for to ensure you've got everything right. As a mathematician or engineer you may have an idea of what the hell is going on in Primer but, as for me... I was clueless!
So have you seen any of these films and felt the same confusion? Or is there a film on here that leaves me looking stupid because it isn't rocket science? Have I missed a film that really left you wondering what the hell just happened? Leave a comment to let us know!
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