As he explains over at his blog, our pal Nick Alexander prefers to reserve his horror movie viewing for the month of October. Even then he’s a bit picky, insisting the films which make up his annual Horror-Movie-A-Thon be critically acclaimed, avoid exploitive scenes, and have a good underlying message. So, I’m guessing no Sharknados then. Anyway, one of the interesting things about the number one movie on his list this year (you’ll have to go there to see what it is) is that it isn’t what most people would consider a horror movie at all.
Which got me to thinking.
I myself have been steadily watching horror and science fiction movies since I was five or six years old. Love’em. Can’t get enough of’em. Which, if they were the films which got under my skin, disturbed me, or simply left me feeling weirded out, would probably be a real big problem. Oddly enough, though, such movies usually aren’t the ones that leave me feeling that way. Listed below are seven (mostly) critically acclaimed movies typically categorized as something other than horror which managed to accomplish for me what most horror films cannot.
To be honest, the first time I tried to watch Leviathan, I fell asleep. This documentary is the epitome of artsy-fartsy, and if you’re not in the mood for that kind of thing, it’s best just to let it be. The second time, though, I was in the right frame of mind and Leviathan managed to weave its spell on me. Make no mistake, I’m not one of those meat eaters who are oblivious to where their dinners come from, but watching this attempt to capture the sensory experience of working on a commercial groundfishing vessel late one night left me feeling weird and disoriented. Something about the image of that hulking ship moving silently through the dark seas as blood and viscera poured over the sides was simultaneously unsettling and mesmerizing.
THE ACT OF KILLING (2012)
The premise of this documentary sounds absolutely insane. Track down the men who led the death squads during the 1965 anti-communist genocide in Indonesia and offer to let them reenact some of their more infamous killings using whatever film genre they chose. WTF right? The result, however, is an entirely fascinating, and sometimes horrifying, look into the psyche of people who commit such acts of violence and how they view themselves (or, in some cases, refuse to view themselves). The Act of Killing is maybe a bit too long, but if you stick it out, you’re unlikely to forget some of the people you meet, even though you’ll likely want to.
I’m not a big fan of writer Harmony Korine as each subsequent screenplay of his seems to get more and more desperate to stir up controversy. I’m looking at you Springbreakers. That being said, there’s no denying the impact his initial offering, Kids, had when it first hit cinemas in 1995. This “day in the life” tale of a group of unsupervised, directionless, drug-and-alcohol fueled teenagers is perhaps a bit too exploitative to actually recommend, but if you do take the plunge and decide to watch it, be prepared to alternate between feelings of anger, depression, and horror. The scene in which the HIV positive Telly finally convinces the virginal Darcy to consent to sex only to ignore her cries of pain while he roughly gets what he wants is bound to leave you feeling all three at the same time.
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000)
Forget all those old afterschool specials, if you really want to keep your kids off of drugs, just sit them down in front of Requiem For A Dream and press play. Trust me, they’ll never even think about touching the stuff. Of course, they’ll also probably require a ton of therapy to get over some of the images in this film, but at least they won’t do drugs. Artfully directed by Darren Aronofsky (yes, the same guy who brought you Noah), the film graphically portrays just about every negative consequence of drug abuse you could ever think of… and probably some you never wanted to.
It’s hard to imagine there was once a time when over 100 million people sat down to watch a made-for-television movie, but that’s exactly what happened back in 1983 when ABC aired The Day After. The funny thing is, The Day After wasn’t even the best telefilm to come out that year dealing with the aftereffects of a nuclear war. That honor belongs to the much less seen Testament, one of the rare films to ever bring Roger Ebert to tears. Concentrating on a single suburban family as they try to get by after the bombs have fallen, the movie is quiet, reserved… and emotionally devastating. This isn’t horror in the traditional sense. It’s the horror of watching your children slowly die of radiation poisoning while you can’t do a thing about it.
I first discussed Irreversible back when I reviewed I Spit On Your Grave and how the two films are generally perceived differently even though they both contain a long, drawn out depiction of a violent rape. I Spit On Your Grave is typically seen as sleazy whereas Irreversible is granted the honorific title of art. It’s not that Irreversible’s rape scene is any easier to stomach. In fact, it’s so realistic that it’s probably the worse of the two. But where I Spit On Your Grave applauds one act of violence leading to another, Irreversible unflinchingly shows the destruction that choosing the path of revenge can lead too, both to one’s self as well as others. That doesn’t make it one bit easier to sit through though.
A SERBIAN FILM (2010)
To hell with this movie. I went into A Serbian Film mostly blind, relying on a few online reviews from folks who are generally trustworthy. Foolish me. As someone who is occasionally paid to review films, I feel an obligation to sit through a movie until the end just to give it a chance to say what it has to say. A Serbian Film tested that resolve at least three or four times. I’m not going to describe the horrors this movie depicts except to say they involve the graphic sexual abuse of children. The last ten minutes of the film are absolutely soul crushing. I’m told by some folks who are in a position to know better than I would that this film is a devastating critique on the political system in Serbia. Maybe that’s true, but there has to be a better way to accomplish that goal than what’s in this film. Again, to hell with it.
So there you go. Seven non-horror movies that managed to provoke emotional responses from me ranging from unsettled to horrified to downright sickened, more so than most horror movies ever have. That’s not always a bad thing. Some of the films such as Testament I couldn’t recommend more. But some of the others, yep, after watching those, I think you’ll understand why, given the choice, I’ll pick a good old relaxing monster movie over a “drama” most any time.