When letting violence loose in a film pins it to a very specific, limited option of genres, choosing the measured amount that the plot allows becomes the difference between a forgettable work of art and a masterpiece imprinted in our psyche, even if remembered by one crucial, violent scene.
Physical aggression, implied murder, slight gore or even crimson pools of bodily fluids are merely audiovisual elements. But when transposed from paper in a script to celluloid or digital films, they bleed into other aspects of filmmaking, such as editing, marketing, and most importantly, how memorable the work could become.
The following is a list of movies chosen due to their capacity to resound with audiences based on how memorable their wildly varied levels of violence has made them. And unlike other films with similar aesthetics, these ones beg to be seen more than once.
10. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005, Dir. Tommy Lee Jones)
Delving into the Texan perspective of Mexican illegal immigrants and the problems surrounding their voyage into America, screenwriter Guillero Arriaga drags us into a drama that could very well be a farce considering it’s about digging up a corpse, hauling it back to Mexico and going into misadventures with it.
No part of this movie is light or easy, and its topical weight shows through all the tensions and explorations of how the human mind blows into action when too much is kept pent up. Practically no subject is left untouched: from the obvious racism, to the subtler right to die, this movie earns its label of “being about death” when it shows nearly every negative aspect of humanity.
Marital rape, euthanasia, dignity, chronic pain, distress, infidelity, psychosis, and resentment are woven into the fabric of a small border town where hunting Mexicans is practically a sport to some.
This slow-paced cocktail of misanthropy is sure to leave you looking for answers, as it naturally lets its believable and very human characters make mistakes, seek atonement, do more harm than good, fail miserably at everything, deceive everyone they know, and awaken a need for understanding the causes of violence. After all, isn’t cinema supposed to address untouchable subjects?
9. The Chumscrubber (2005, Dir. Arie Posin)
Suburban surrealism is the perfect escapist past-time for people who feel discontent with the conformist directions their lives seem to be taking: mostly because American culture has found a way to make universal topics within a specific setting a profitable artform.
The Chumscrubber is more than a film (wouldn’t any filmmaker die to make this claim believable?), it’s a concept. Not necessarily an original concept, but definitely a bold one.
Parting from the premise that numbing high school kids with prescription drugs should be held in equal or even higher contempt than their use of recreational drugs, the Chumscrubber is that character from that videogame who makes you question your own identity, or that weird kid in class who seems to be fine with bullying due to how dysfunctional his family is, or that quirky artist who seems to be misunderstood no matter how much love she receives.
The Chumscrubber is an eternal question, and a fluctuating answer. From the mundane with a twist to an eye-popping homage to Un chien andalou, this film is sure to leave you scratching your head, unless you’re the kind of person who continuously re-evaluates life.
8. Hanna (2011, Dir. Joe Wright)
Unlike gore films, a movie with violence at its core should be about many other things in order to remain subtle. Hanna is a very memorable film due to its stunning locations (violence is, after all, a primarily visual appeal), its coming-of-age look at humanity, and a contemporary retelling of classical European fairy tales.
A warrior princess must overpower a wicked witch through brain and brawn in order to avenge her lost mother. Now, where an average movie would have established genetical engineering as its premise, Hannah takes its audience into a hallucinogenic trip of colors, textures, and infected mushrooms of sorts.
Wild camera angles, music that ranges from the soothing and melodic to the adrenaline-pumped and insane, the chemicals released when watching this arthouse action flick are driven as a juggernaut by a murderous child trained from birth to be nothing but a merciless killing machine.
Hannah’s story is about her finding her heart and her place in a world that’s as stable as a drug trip, where people can be kind or treacherous, and where defending yourself can be no different than hurting innocent bystanders. It’s a fight for survival and you’re in for a carefully crafted no-holds-barred ride.
7. Santa Sangre (1989, Dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky)
In his usual surreal style, Jodorowsky delivers to us a vision of something believable but open to many interpretations: a journey through a troubled mind. Employing an animalistic view on society, this film’s gnarly teeth sink into the many layers of consciousness, providing a bird’s-eye view of how verbal abuse and other intangible forces can be forged into violence, mutated by the circus show of the human mind.
Fittingly enough, the carnival performers serving as a child’s reference of adulthood in this movie contort their twisted reality into an impressionable mind, swayed by the moral limblessness that envelops him. Most Jodorowsky films employ their various elements with millimetrical precision, being left to grow naturally, but their message can come heavy-handed when too much is left to the imagination.
With this movie, the recurring elements keep it all grounded together as different members from a same body. Certainly, lacking things (such as mental faculties, senses, or actually arms) is a central theme to this work of art, and the recurring thematic color is the red of the holy blood, culminating in burning effigies of passion.
Most of the actual violence in this film is concentrated during a pivotal murder-suicide scene, and later on during a mirror of it, and finally during the climactic final fight, all through cutting. Thusly, the elements of mutilation pervade the inner voyage of an institutionalized man, who located the source of his trauma and finds himself enfolded in a spiral of lunacy, further proving that sanity is what you make of it.
6. Black God, White Devil (1964, Dir. Glauber Rocha)
Glauber Rocha presents us with a look at what could be perceived as the path to personal freedom. Following the footsteps of outlaw Manuel, who struggles both physically and metaphorically, the themes of religious exploitation are explored in the form of violence against the masses through mind control in cults of personality.
As most movies in this list, this film is quite surreal at times, aiming more to create sensations with texture than to tell an easy-to-chew story with little room for interpretation. Using faith as a multifaceted shield, heroism in this movie is a volatile concept explored through rebellion against an oppressive system, even if that entails displays of prowess.
The uneasiness of the dry lands visited in this heavy drama follows the viewer and poses a challenge to societies blinded by ideologies that don’t benefit them… as long as they’re willing to listen this Brazilian wail for the ages.