Warning: Some sensitive content ahead.
I consider myself quite the film buff and I have a thing for disturbing films. Perhaps it's the way they've challenged me intellectually and emotionally. Some of the darkest subject matter is the most engaging, revealing truths about the world and the society we live in.
A lot of disturbing films take inspiration from reality. There have been some truly excellent ones, as we were so kindly reminded after Redditor JarJarBinks asked the online community,
"What disturbing films are based on true stories?"
Wolf Creek (2005)
It's based on the Backpacker Murders in the 90s. What happened was that a guy called Ivan Milat (basis for Mick Taylor) would pick up backpackers hitchhiking on the Hume Highway between Melbourne and Sydney. Instead of taking them to where they wanted to go, he'd tie them up, take them out to the Belanglo State Forest and torture them before killing them. He succeeded in killing at least 7 people (that we know of), but failed to abduct another chap, who ended up being the person who identified him."
A truly unnerving film. The "head on a stick" scene––you know the one––is probably the most unnerving.
"Conspiracy. A group of intelligent, high-ranking, sophisticated individuals meet for a conference to catch up, share a laugh, and calmly debate the merits of industrial scale genocide."
The true story of the newspaper that managed to uncover how far the pedophilia went in the Catholic Church."
An unsettling, if quiet film. It grabs you and doesn't let go. The journalists who handled this are heroes.
Come and See (1985)
"While not based on any one individual's experiences, Elem Klimov and Ales Adamovich based the movie on the real experiences of the civilians who lived on the Eastern Front during WW2. Klimov drew on his experiences as a refugee surviving the Battle of Stalingrad while Adamovich drew on his experiences as a Belorussian partisan. It gives an unflinching look at the reality of the Holocaust by bullets and partisan warfare."
Probably one of the most disturbing films that I've ever seen. Not for the faint of heart. The barn scene alone is the stuff of nightmares.
The Sacrament (2013)
"The Sacrament. It's this found footage film based on the story of Jonestown. It's about this camera crew that travels to Guyana to find one crew member's sister. They act out the lectures Jim would give, the suicide, the shooting, etc. It's one thing to read about the massacre or watch documentaries but to actually watch the massacre acted out is another kind of disturbing."
Jonestown was the largest loss of American life until September 11. The gravity of the event cannot be underestimated.
The Snowtown Murders (2011)
"Snowtown Murders. I couldn't finish it. That bathtub scene.....f***.
I did listen to an interview today with the guy who played the main psycho. He seemed really pleasant and said that, yeah, that scene was brutal to shoot."
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The director, Justin Kurzel, is known for making subversive and engaging films. His latest, Nitram, is based on the Port Arthur shooting. Sure to be unsettlling.
"Changeling is about the mother of one of the victims of the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders. She really was committed to a psych ward because she insisted the 'Changeling' (the boy who claimed to be her son) was not her son, the LAPD was trying to use an uplifting story to distract from the fact they were garbage."
This film gutted me. Christine Collins never got a break.
"Downfall / Das Untergang
What really was disturbing was the fact that, after all was said and done, Trudle Jung never really seemed ashamed or even sorry for what happened during the war."
"Bully. Directed by Larry Clarke. A group of teenagers plots how they're going to murder a friend. So real and so raw. The whole time watching it I thought, "This is exactly how it'd play out in real life." Got to the credits and they start showing photos of the actual people."
Few films feel as much a slice of life as this one. It's graphic, it's cutting, it's disgusting––and it's also unforgettable. The performances are great.
"Room was a movie made in 2015 and took inspiration, if that's the right word, from several real-life cases where young girls were kidnapped and kept prisoner for years or decades and had children with their abductor."
If you have a strong stomach, it's worth checking out these films, because they're all exceptional. If nothing else, they're worth a conversation. And who knows, you might introduce others to films they might appreciate (if not necessarily enjoy).
Have some recommendations of your own? Feel free to tell us in the comments below!