The Ten Most Disturbing Films I Have Ever Seen

I watch a lot of movies that could be categorised as disturbing. It’s not that there’s something wrong with me, it’s just that they tend to be more interesting than films which don’t shock and grab the viewer. Making a film disturbing or shocking works, and often is used to prove a point. Here are ten films which prove their point extremely well, and do so by being very disturbing. So here it is, the ten most disturbing movies I have ever seen:

10: Un Chien Andalou (1929)

Luis Bunuel’s first feature is the well-known, influential and horrific masterpiece of surrealism, Un Chien Andalou. Images of a woman’s eyeball being sliced, ants crawling out of a human hand and dead donkeys are among the disturbing features of this meaningful 16-minute work which if you haven’t seen, you desperately need to see.

9: Dogtooth (2009)

Of all the films of Greek cinema, Dogtooth is probably the most well-known. The plotline is spooky enough: a husband and wife keep their children confined to their estate for their whole lives, forbidden to leave. The results of an accidental revolt takes the film into a realm of disturbing, shocking revelation. The definition of thought-provoking.

8: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)

A stunningly honest look at times when abortions were illegal and lengths to which two women go to make it happen has left an impression on me ever since I first saw it. Incredibly difficult to watch, even though visually it’s quite tame. The thoughts and emotions evoked by what it suggests, as well as the constantly lingering single camera keep the audience riveted in silent disbelief.

7: Irreversible (2002)

We’ve all at least heard of this one. Gaspar Noe’s flooring, sickening look at the consequences of rape and the lasting impact left on the human persona when faced with such a brutal violation of a loved one might be difficult to watch, but not a second is wasted and not a second should be cut from this brilliant French film reflective on the dark side of a sickening underbelly.

6: Eraserhead (1976)

David Lynch’s first feature-length film mocks the viewers with nihilistic visions of a future existent as a barren waste land where mutant children are born, the human mind exists as nothing more than a useful tool in the production of stationary and a woman with a severe allergy taunts the viewer that “in heaven, everything is fine.” How is this not disturbing?

5: Man Bites Dog (1992)

What’s really sickening about this serial killer mockumentary is how the viewer is tricked into “befriending” and ocassionally siding with the relentless, disgusting lead character and the media’s obsession with documenting his sadistic acts, careless of the affect it will have on society. Powerful and important, but incredibly difficult to sit through.

4: Happiness (1998)

All of Todd Solondz’s films could make the shortlist for this list, but none moreso than Happiness, the relentless examination of a society where the curtains are thrown open and all is revealed, in its sickening, ugly glory and realistic criticism. Characters that are impossible to love are thrown along a path of loneliness and self-doubt to the point when for the viewer, hatred is impossible but pity is unavoidable.

3: Persona (1966)

The Un Chien Andalou of its age, Ingmar Bergman’s film about the diverse complexities of the human personality and its fractures is difficult to watch, in more ways than one. Not only does it hit the human psyche hard, the film often breaks and malfunctions, blips in the cinematic radar designed to jolt the viewer back into reality.

2: The Seventh Continent (1989)

A scathing, spite-fuelled look at bourgeois society descending into dystopia, Michael Haneke’s first feature film follows the boring routine-filled repetitive life of a typical family, as their emotional and personal lives begin to fray and their fractured psyches begin to snap, resulting in a shocking third act that will change the way you look at middle-class society.

1: Week End (1967)

I’ve mentioned before that this is the most disturbing film I’ve ever seen, and I’m sticking by that statement. Yet another criticism of the routine of middle-class society, Godard’s film sees it all disintegrate to the point of the complete annihilation of normality. Cannibalism, rape, murder, and various other atrocities serve to prove Godard’s point about the senselessness of it all.

That’s my list. I’ve tried to make it briefer than my usual lists, because many of the films will be obscure to some, and I’ve already written reviews of most of them, and there are more on the way. I hope the list was informative and enjoyable. Anything you’d like to add? Which ones have you seen? Leave a comment below.

Posted on August 4, 2011, in Lists, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. The Seventh Continent is brilliant in all its madness. I’d switch Persona for Cries and Whisperers which I find incredible hard to watch with all the red and the screaming and yelling.

    • Hehe, yeah Cries and Whispers will getcha, alright.

      Glad to meet someone else who has seen The Seventh Continent. I’m writing a review of it which will be up in the next few days.

  2. I have seen only 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Great film but indeed not one I want to see again. And that picture of Eraserhead… damn! Definitely interested in checking out Seventh Continent and Week End thanks to your post 🙂

  3. Good list – I’ll admit I haven’t seen many you’ve included, but I’ll take your word on how disturbing they are 😉

    Personally I’d be inclined to include Requiem for a Dream, Visitor Q and Cannibal Holocaust.

    • Requiem for a Dream nearly made the list; I have not seen Visitor Q, and Cannibal Holocaust isn’t worthy of the privilege of being on this list.

  4. Have you seen Brian Yuzna’s Society? I’ll post a link to an account of the film by one of my favourite blogs that I’ve stumbled across recently:

    Also, I didn’t sleep a week after I saw Spoorloos – truly chilling.

    Nice post.


    • Society sounds crappy, but in a good way. Any film that’s anti-bourgeois is a friend of mine (not that I hate the middle class, it’s just that people mocking them make such good movies.)

      Spoorloos would’ve been on 11-20, no fucking doubt. The American remake ruined it.

  5. i’ve seen half of this list – 4, 5, 6, 7, 10. disturbing but enjoyable for the most part. im not sure id choose to watch them again unless “educating” somebody new. happiness being the exception. i have a thing for solondz movies.

    • Yeah, Solondz is a great filmmaker, although I was disappointed with Palindromes and Life After Wartime. Still, Happiness and Storytelling are fucking masterpieces.

  6. I’ve seen 5 from this list. And specifically regarding 8, i found the directing…not a good fit for the movie. What mean is that it was a very character intensive story, and the directing i felt distanced me from them instead of drawing me into there struggles

    • I think that was kind of the point; to make you feel distant and unable to help no matter what you did. To me this was evidenced in the end when she looks at the camera. It’s as if she’s pleading, begging the audience to help her but they can’t do anything. That’s what makes it so disturbing.

  7. I’ve only seen Eraserhead (which requires a rewatch soon) out of these, and 9 others are on my extensive watchlist.

    Requiem for a Dream, A Clockwork Orange, The Fly, Blue Velvet, Pink Flamingos, American Psycho, Spoorloos, Mulholland Dr. And The Mist – the God part and the end. The first time I saw it I had goose bumps for 20 minutes after the end of the movie.

    • Nice suggestions, but they’re disturbing on another level I can’t quite explain. I love those movies, and while some of them are disturbing, they’re just nowhere near as disturbing to me, as the ones on my list.

  8. As you know I am not very good at disturbing things. I shy away from things that will haunt me after I watch. As a consequence I have only seen 1 film form your list.

    I hope you are ok and your Bro in law pulls through.

    My thoughts are with you


    • I understand. I don’t watch the films to be disturbed or because they’re disturbing, I watch them because I hear good things about them and they’re the sort of film I love. Sure, I don’t “enjoy” all of them, but I love them because they’re great, and one of the main things that makes them great is either the disturbance they cause, or the product of the disturbance, eg. to some people, it might be more disturbing to think about the consequences or implications of Irreversible, then to actually sit down and watch it.

      Thanks for the kind wishes. We had to drive up to Dunedin hospital because he was in an awful car accident. He’s pretty banged up, but he’ll live. I’m not actually sure if brother-in-law is the correct term for your sister’s husband, but that’s what I call him, and he doesn’t seem to mind.

  9. I would add Grey Gardens (the original Maysles Bros. documentary, not the more recent biopic, which was, nonetheless, also excellent). I can’t remember ever experiencing such a mix of horror, revulsion, pity, and exhilaration in one film.

  10. Nice list. I would say I would check some of these films out but I’m afraid to!

  11. I’m with you 100% but. Also I will like to mention a personal pick:

    – Salo (1975) / Piero Paolo Passolini.

    – The Holy Mountain (1973) / Alejandro Jodorowsky.

    – Martyrs (2008) / Pascal Laugier.

    • I have seen the first two, and on the original shortlist I had for this post, they were both on it. The Holy Mountain only barely missed the cut, and Salo was just a tiny bit obvious for the Top 10. I have not seen Martyrs, though if I sat through A Serbian Film, I could probably sit through that.

  12. Check out Taxidermia. It all comes to one truly original and disturbing climax. Enjoy, if you can find it.

  13. I’d add Oldboy to this list, although some will inevitably disagree (I personally didn’t find it to be exactly “predictable” the first time I saw it, a claim I’ve heard from many others).

    • Haha, I suppose Oldboy would count. Can’t say I found it ‘disturbing,’ but it was a decent thriller with some great twists and excellent storytelling techniques.

  14. Some excellent films on here. Especially love Dogtooth. We are always on the look out for some good disturbing films and there are some on that list we have not seen, so glad to have stumbled upon this post! I’d recommend Taxidermia as a good disturbing films too.

    • Hehe, you’re welcome. Many of the films on this list I’m not jumping to see again. A friend recently recommended GUMMO to me, but I’ll be sure to look for TAXIDERMIA as well. Which on this list have you not seen, if I may ask?

  15. Great list! Although personally I believe ‘Irreversible’ should possibly be ranked a little higher on the list (that rape scene will always be imprinted on my mind) and I would include ‘the men behind the sun’. It is by no means a good movie or even an insightful movie, it is just disturbing just from shock value so maybe it doesn’t belong. I agree with 4 months.. It doesn’t really contain any really graphic scenes (excluding the fetus) but it is still so disturbing from the power of suggestion and the dark cinematography.

  16. Great list of films I must say. I’ve seen them all and they’re masterpeices. I am a huge Haneke fan, own all his films and The Seventh Continent is one of my favourites. I like the way you have chosen films that are disturbing on a more cerebral level, rather than including obvious choices like The August Underground series which are just incredibly dull and inept. Any film that is so tedious I have to fast forward through it just to get to the grisly bits really isn’t going to make a lasting impression on me. However, there are certain films such as Salo, Martyrs, Men Behind the Sun and A Serbian Film that are on so many lists because they really are the most disturbing to most people. It seems perhaps with your decision to be different you’ve actually missed some key films and included ones that, in my mind are more painterly and disquietingly powerful than disturbing. We are all disturbed in different ways and by different content though, and you did clearly state that the films you have chosen are the ones that disturbed you personally the most though, so that’s fair game to me.

    Dogtooth is fantastic and would probably feature in a top 30 or so of my most disturbing.

    Have you seen a Belgian film called Angst? I found that particularly disturbing. Utterly convincing and realistic. Also if you haven’t seen it I’d recommend Gaspar Noe’s I Stand Alone. Judging by your selection I think these two films may resonate with you.

    The Seventh Continent is one of the most powerful cinematic experiences I’ve had. I *might* even be tempted to include that if I were ever to make a list of my own! But then if I did that I’m not sure I could justify not also including Benny’s Video!

    Good work anyway. I think I’ll follow your reviews.

    • I agree that the list is far from perfect. If I rewrote it today, there would be changes. But in general, I’m happy with them.

      I haven’t seen Angst, but I have seen and loved I Stand Alone. I’m definitely a huge Gaspar Noé fan.

      I agree, The Seventh Continent is incredibly powerful. I love Haneke’s subtler films, like that one and especially Code Unknown, which is one of my 20 favorite films.

  17. Oh, and with regard to Men Behind The Sun. It’s utterly repellent and exploitative, whilst being based on true events during World War Two – the same events that are depicted in Philosophy Of A Knife, which, according to Tim Wambolt of Rue Morgue is the most violent film ever made. Not sure how disturbing you would find the latter, but Men Behind The Sun would be in my top three, as would In a Glass Cage, a horrible, evil masterpeice. Both are truly harrowing films. I would be very interested to see what your opinion of them are 🙂

  18. Oh and finally @Joe – I’d switch Persona for Bergman’s Hour Of The Wolf

    Ok ok I’m done 🙂

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