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The 30 Most Extreme Movies of The 21st Century So Far

14 May 2015 | Features, Film Lists | by Mark Repp


Remember when filmmakers created scares and suspense by not showing the viewer everything? The end result of many suspenseful scenes existed primarily in the viewer’s imagination. Think Hitchcock and Clouzot, for instance. But film fans over the years became more sophisticated and jaded. They wanted to rely on more than just their imaginations.

Sub-genres began to crop up, like the found-footage films (The Blair Witch Project and [REC]) which were meant to show horror that was real, and the viewer was part of it. Films like Saw and Hostel yielded another popular label, often referred to as “torture porn.”

In the 2000s, we have seen movements based around the idea of extreme cinema, two of which make up the bulk of this list: the South Korean New Wave and New French Extremity. These films give jaded audiences thrills on more of a visceral level. There is extreme violence, blood and gore, bizarre behavior, disturbing images of torture, sex and experimentation.

Obviously, none of this is for the squeamish. The aim here is to present the most successful and influential examples in this area of cinema. Japanese directors like Takashi Miike and Sion Sono have multiple titles here, since both names are synonymous with shock. So, let’s begin, and get ready for some serious brutality.


30. Love Exposure (Sion Sono, 2008, Japan)


Love Exposure is the best Sion Sono film that you probably haven’t seen, and the reason is because of its mammoth 237-minute length. Sono even challenges himself, offering a love triangle that jumps back and forth in time. The plot revolves around multiple characters, each with a unique back-story leading up to their eventual meeting.

Explaining the details of this highly-original and inspired oddity is pointless. Instead, look at its elements: extreme violence in the Yakuza style (with a woman being the heavy), satire everywhere (including a character who becomes an up-skirt photographer), cult-worship, stabs at the Catholic church, and, all of this masqueraded as a love story. Epic in nature, but like nothing you’ve ever seen. So much happens that you will become sucked up into the experience without ever looking at its running time.


29. Kidnapped (Miguel Ángel Vivas, 2010, Spain)


Not a lot has been said about Kidnapped, compared to the other thrillers mentioned here. This is a shame because it will definitely satisfy fans of suspense and brutal violence. What makes it extreme is that it puts the viewer inside the house with the victims in a home-invasion scenario, and it does so in a stylishly-sinister way.

While it feels a bit reminiscent of Funny Games, it is different enough to be original in its own right. The viewer has a helpless feeling which turns into anger amidst chaos, and this won’t appeal to everyone. One memorable scene involves two simultaneous camera shots which gradually merge. The twist ending is memorable, whether you like it or not, and the events leading up to it are emotional and excruciating.


28. Das Experiment (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2001, Germany)


Based on a real-life Stanford experiment in 1971, Das Experiment takes place almost entirely within a German prison. The subjects are invited to play the roles of prisoners or guards. As they follow the predetermined script of the experiment, they are monitored by a team of doctors studying their behavior.

Events begin to turn increasingly violent though, as roles reverse and guards use acts of humiliation toward their acting prisoners. What transpires is done so very convincingly, with excellent performances and powerful direction by Oliver Hirschbiegel. This disturbing psychological study of prison behavior disguised as a thriller is utterly gripping throughout.


27. The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodóvar, 2011, Spain)

The Skin I Live In

Pedro Almodovar was making short films before The Skin I Live In’s actress Elena Anaya was even born, and the great Spanish director is no stranger to edgy filmmaking.

Antonio Banderas plays a talented but ultimately-mad plastic surgeon who has devised a way to invent a new form of skin resistant to injury. He does this after his wife’s death in a car crash leaves him looking for answers. Then we see a lovely mysterious young woman (Anaya). Later we find out the role she plays in the surgeon’s life and why.

This doesn’t feel like an Almodovar film. It is more complex, as he blends elements of mystery, horror, time shifting, the crazy-doctor theme, a love story, and some secrets that you must find out for yourself. It is all very disturbing and cringe-worthy, but you will get sucked in, and Almodovar’s twisty climax is unforgettable.


26. Red White & Blue (Simon Rumley, 2010, UK/US)


Three characters are studied in depth in this thoroughly-engrossing shocker from Simon Rumley, maker of the equally-dark The Living and the Dead. Whether you like any of these people is unimportant. The storytelling and the intensity are what matter here. Three forms of disturbing revenge take place in Red White & Blue, one from each of the three main characters.

To put things in perspective, we have an abused young woman, Erica (convincingly played by Amanda Fuller), who seems addicted to sex, but knowingly gives multiple men HIV. There is Nate (Noah Taylor), a trained killer honorably discharged from the Army and looking for a friend, and there is Franki (Marc Senter, who turned in a memorably-psychotic performance in The Lost), who cares for his dying mother and has a one-night stand with Erica.

It all sets the stage for some very compelling events. This is the definition of a slow burn thriller. Very dark and emotional, with a brutal climax that you will not forget.


25. Bedevilled (Chul-soo Jang, 2010, South Korea)


Bedevilled is a horror film of extreme sadness, darkness and ferocious revenge. The character of Bok-nam lives with one of the most repulsive wife-beating, child-abusing, woman-hating husbands in recent cinematic memory. He doesn’t think twice about abusing her in many ways, as well as her daughter.

If the daughter gets in the way during one of his many tirades, oh well. Bok-nam’s child is of the only real importance in her life. All of this abuse is going on prior to the arrival of selfish big-city businesswoman Hae-won.

There is a feeling of isolation throughout the film, mostly due to its remote island setting, where Hae-won originally grew up. That these two women are actually friends from childhood presents an interesting contrast. Because of the extremes director Chul-soo Jang uses in portraying abuse, and the ultimate revenge inflicted, Bedeviled is a powerful and brutal experience that horror fans will appreciate.


24. Three…Extremes (Fruit Chan’s segment “Dumplings,” 2004, Hong Kong)


For proof positive that sound effects can be as horrifying as anything seen, look no further than the Fruit Chan segment “Dumplings” in the Asian horror trio, Three…Extremes. Not that the other two short segments aren’t worthy of your time. They are, although Miike’s effort finds him more subtle than usual. “Dumplings” stands out as the most memorable of the three.

Without giving away any of the plot, you might get a queasy feeling in your stomach when you discover the secret ingredient in her dumplings. Youth is important to Mei, and she will stop at nothing to reclaim hers. Cringes are definitely in store. The extended version of Dumplings is included in the DVD/Blu-Ray edition. This longer and creepier variation spends more time on the cannibalism aspect and the main character’s search for an increasingly-youthful appearance.



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  • Erick García

    I saw A Serbian film.. nothing has been the same since.

    • ThisGuyHereKnowsNothing

      I wish I hadn’t seen it for that reason.

    • Agreed. That movie pushes peoples idea of “moral” way beyond what most would ever consider. I saw it before Netflix took it off their site. It lasted a few weeks. It didn’t take long for people to start complaining about it. I can’t even describe to people the one scene that cuts to most peoples sense of right and wrong….they have to see it (in it’s entirety) for themselves. Many scenes are not as ‘visual’ as they are ‘suggestive’…which leads viewers to use their own imaginations…and when they do, they tend to fill in gaps far deeper than any movie production company could.

    • Joseph Sheldahl

      A Serbian Film was boring and not shocking in the least.

  • Lucy Beth

    Thrilled to see Calvaire on this list, have always been upset by the lack of attention it received.
    If not familiar with the directors work, would also recommend the short which is included on the dvd of Calvaire – A Wonderful Love.

    • Felony Jones

      meh. i thought calvaire, ils and frontier(s) were unfocused, flawed messes films that rode the eurohorror/extreme cinema wave, that should have been left off of most of these lists.

  • thekinkyafro

    Red, White & Blue…fuck me.

    • Mark Repp

      Is that good or bad?

      • thekinkyafro

        It’s the most messed up film i have ever seen. And i’ve seen most of the films on this list…

  • JesterRaiin

    Hmmmmmm… No love for Nekr… Ah, XXIst century. Well, that’s another pair of galoshes.

    Good job, please continue, citizen. :]

    Just one side note… I’d replace “Oldboy” with, hmmm, perhaps August Underground? While certainly graphic and somewhat disturbing (at least to some people), “Oldboy” isn’t THAT extreme.

  • Hal Dunn

    All of these interest me about as much as the Human Centipede films. Zero interest.

    • FJM

      Enjoy your boring, vanilla life then.

      • Hal Dunn

        Ha ha. Good come back. Maybe I should check ’em out. Should Human Centipede be on the list or is it garbage? Go Lightning!

        • Mark Repp

          It’s garbage.

        • Rudi

          HC is more disturbing in a ‘funny’, unreal way. I think this list deals with movies that attack you in a more personal way.

          Fun movie though.

  • Jeff Scott Taylor

    Haute Tension was stolen from a Dean Koontz book called “Intensity”. I do believe there was a law suit as well.

    • John

      No, Koontz said he didn’t want to be associated with it. Aja, however, has admitted he is familiar with Intensity.

  • dawnofmegiddo

    Hmmm…Eden Lake, in my opinion, sucked on toast. Then again, I rarely find any of the gazillion Crazy People Just Waiting To Traumatize Innocent Tourists/Campers/Travelers/________(fill in the blank) type of movies to be even remotely tolerable. It’s as if the screenwriters for those type of ‘brutal’ movies must all attend the same writing class in order to yield such astonishingly predictable, formulaic stories replete with implausibly moronic characters that are guaranteed to be written as being immensely, incomprehensibly stupid. Which is to say, within the storyline of these type of of movies, the course of the story is 100% contingent upon one or more of the main characters choosing/acting/behaving in such a way as to assure the most obvious, negative outcome. How is this supposed to be entertaining?

    • Mark Repp

      You probably aren’t a fan of the slasher films of the ’80s either, right?

      • dawnofmegiddo

        Quite the opposite, although admittedly nostalgia plays a role in looking back. As a youngster I loved Creature Features, EC/Creepy comics, Poe, etc. I was a teenager during the ’80s, and fortunately in our rural area theater employees rarely “carded” anyone, and so my friends and I got to see theatrical runs of everything from Alien, Carpenter, Romero, Phantasm(a favorite to this day!) Evil Dead, Dead & Buried, Return Of Living Dead, etc during that era. Plus the vhs medium was just ramping up, and we saw just about anything that was available, including many ‘knife kill’ movies. Black Christmas, Madman, Curtains and Hell Night, come to mind. The first Fri 13th was decent, but found the sequels silly/stupid. Same with Nightmare On Elm Street.

        So, to sum up, when I watch one of those type of slasher-crazed killers movies now (Strangers is prob the worst I’ve seen in recent days-worthy of Mystery Science theater 3000 treatment! ha) I just see re-treads of those ancient formulas that have been used a million times over…and worse, I find the appeal of some of these movies goes beyond genre fans, and find a lot of pro-violent tv/movies to be geared toward a brainwashed, post-constitutional empire of fascism enabling know-nothings who apparently LOVE “torture” and watching that type of sicko ‘voted off the island’ bullshit – -a mentality that corp/state elements are strategically encouraging the populace to embrace i.e. manufacturing the people’s consent for a mass murderous, war mongering, dictatorial authority that presents an antichrist smiley face to the world. Now, that may sound harsh coming from an ardent genre/horror fan, however…that’s my take on it.

        • Mark Repp

          I don’t understand everything you said, especially that long second paragraph. But I appreciate any true horror movie fan and their views. I never liked Strangers either. This list has some very good, valid horror films on it, but it’s a new kind of horror that strikes most people much deeper than the basic monster movie or slasher killer genre like they had in the eighties.

          • dawnofmegiddo

            Yes, definitely some titles in the list I was aware of, yet hadn’t seen…and some I’d never heard of at all.

            Second paragraph…yeah, I’m a politico, in the sense of following the deep state, not the puppet govt you see on the boob tube, ha. My political awakening came in the late ’80s via Iran/Contra malfeasance, and ironically, it was during congressional hearings over that where the infamous COG/REX84 plans were briefly disclosed to the public – those plans ARE the phony ‘war on terror.’ I’ll just stop there, as this forum isn’t about that jazz. Suffice it to say, a coup occurred here in 2000, and everything we’ve seen from corp/establishment interests since that time has been little more than an ongoing dramatization of a functioning representative gov…which we no longer have. COG was enacted Sept 14th 2001, and has been re-signed into effect every yr since by both puppet ‘presidents.’

        • Snoopy – Your Friendly Neighbo

          There were creature features in the 80s? I thought those were a 70s/60s thing. Or did I misunderstand you?

          Either way, i think we both have the same tastebuds. I grew up on the same kind of horror and I feel like most horror movies nowadays are pure bloodshed with no real plot development. Even if a movie was a real turkey, you had to be creative and make the experience fun for you. I feel like not all hope is lost and that’s still the case with certain films, but it’s hard for me to really get into horror movies now, especially because of this. Never seen Eden Lake but many of the titles in this list look pretty good, if not very bloody. We live in a harsher world now than back in the day. You and I are just old souls.

    • Rudi

      I recognize the picture you’re painting here, but can’t match it with Eden Lake. In my opinion EL is a very original and utterly disturbing horror movie because of its ‘real’ feel. Definitely deserves a spot on this list.

      Personally I can’t believe how Requiem For A Dream is not on this excellent list. As real and uncompromising as horror gets – it left me more drained than Irréversible did.

      • dawnofmegiddo

        To be fair, I’ve seen a handful of ‘terrorized couples in the wilderness’ movies over the past several yrs, and they all overlap/blend together in my recollection of details, so it’s possible I’m mistaken re EL.

        Is it the one where the woman/wife inadvertently ends up back at the parents/family house of one of the murderous youths, and then they kill her, and that’s the end?

        Either way, I’m just not a fan of that type of story …nor am I into the wave of horror movies that let the viewer know that there’s no hope for any of the characters, and so what you’re left with is just people being entertained by watching people suffer, getting tortured to death, etc. Not for me.

        • Felony Jones

          they all seem formulaic because they all came from the same supposedly “true story.” ILS (aka THEM), was first, followed by THE STRANGERS, and a couple more whose names escape me.

      • Mark Repp

        I can’t argue with that at all. If this list had 32 spots on it, or if it was a different week, Requiem and Antichrist easily could have been included.

  • dawnofmegiddo

    One movie that could have been included here–and one that really had an impact when I saw it–is The Horseman (2008) …makes Taken seem like paint-by-numbers Disney fare, and not just due to the violence, which Horseman has plenty of, but because of the searing performance of Peter Marshall as the grief stricken father who embarks on a murderous rampage to avenge the death of his daughter.

    • Mark Repp

      Sounds good. I would like to see it.

  • marcel

    great great list! big thanks!!!!!!!!

    • Joseph Sheldahl

      It’s not a good movie, not is it a shocking movie. It’s not going to pop the bubbles of anyone but sheltered teenagers and the easily agitated.

      The Life and Death of a Porno Gang might pop some bubbles though, considering it’s a vastly superior movie.

  • Rudi

    And one very much out of the box suggestion: Black Swan! In my eyes it’s very real horror that affected me on a more personal level than all 30 movies combined. I know IMDB doesn’t consider it horror, but for me it very much is.

  • Dawn Broedell Kermizian

    Sure – it’s all fun and
    games until someone loses sight of reality! While watching extreme cinema may
    help when you are seeking vindication for personal trauma, watching it on a
    regular basis will manipulate you to tune into the EVIL that led to that trauma.
    Excessive focus on the evil, cruel, and grotesque will cheat you out of the joy
    to which you are entitled. You’ve been
    warned – don’t lose control of your soul!

  • dawndusk

    Sure – it’s all fun and games until someone loses sight of reality! While watching extreme cinema may seem to help when you are seeking vindication for personal trauma, watching it on a regular basis will manipulate you to tune into the EVIL that led to that trauma. Excessive focus on the evil, cruel, and grotesque will cheat you out of the joy to which you are entitled. You’ve been warned – don’t lose control of your soul!

    • lxndr


  • tony montasna

    list contains some of my personal fav. movies of all times The Chaser,
    Love exposure, Cold Fish , Oldboy being a few…….I however believe
    firmly that the makers of “A Serbian film” should be shot in the head
    for making the shittiest film ever in an already Sicko world !!

    • Joseph Sheldahl

      It’s not even close. God, you sound so closeminded. Shot in the head? It’s just a fucking movie. It’s not even a shocking one at that. Direct your vitriol towards real child molesters and killers, not asshats making a movie. Grow up!

  • disqus_kOiQcyN7dK

    I would choose The Life and Death of a Porno Gang instead of A Serbian Film, to stay in Serbia

  • James Davis
  • Lazarus

    Why you start your review with a spoiler???

  • HLLH

    The skin I live in changed me forever.

  • mtspace evolvd

    I had to stop Haute Tension & finish watching it during daylight hours on a smaller tv. i literally jumped up screaming, shaking off the fear a few times!! High Tension is one of the best horror film i’ve ever seen & horror is all i watch.

  • Daniel C

    Gaspar Noé is Argentinian, not French

    • The movie is French. It just happened to be directed by an argentinian.

    • Sebastián Gómez-Latorre Insúa

      noè is as argentinian as almodovar is chilean

  • nick

    seen all the top 10 and I would include Mordum August Underground – which is on par if not sicker than the uncut version of a Serbian film. There is also a short french film about an autopsy which is worth watching as something different – not as deprived but interesting

  • Jeet Roy

    u just forgot … ‘I spit on your grave’

  • Pgh Rhdj

    Grotesque not included?

  • Phill Parkinson

    I finally watched A Serbian film – the uncut version – after hearing so much about it, reading so much about it, and seeing it top so many lists like the one above. If it out-topped Irreversible then it’s got to be bad, right? For me, I still find it hard even watching the making of the scene where the guy gets his head smashed in with a fire extinguisher and Vincent Cassel gets his arm snapped backwards and broken – all in plain sight for the viewer. So with this I braced myself and decided to be courageous and watch A Serbian Film, fully accepting that it may make me feel quite strange for a while to come – which is how I felt after Irreversible, and even the excellent Snowtown.

    What I got when I finally watched A Serbian Film was really, in fact, once you took the taboo material away, quite a tame and lame splatter film which, apart from the taboo subject, didn’t push any envelopes as far as I was concerned. Even the infamous scene with the baby – which is quite rightly disgusting, but poorly executed – was mainly focussed on Milos’ face and his reaction – everything was so low quality filmmaking, acting – the script was terrible – that it was extremely hard to for any of it to be believable and so by the point of the newborn porn scene, rather than feeling cringed and sickened, my immediate reaction was ‘that’s just so unbelievable and badly done’.

    TBH just for the taboo subject matter, it should be put maybe at about nine or ten on this list, but certainly not at number 1.

    Even the part where the brother’s head gets pummelled by a rock – again you don’t actually see anything – even Drive’s version (which was obviously ripped off from Irreversible) is more graphic and shocking than this.

    I came away from the film just thinking what a lame poor piece of filmmaking it was.

    • Dragutin Sparavalo


    • Joseph Sheldahl

      Exactly my thoughts! I feel like the controversy it garnered was from a young crowd who stumbled across it, and spread the word about it for shock value- having never seen movies like Antichrist or Funny Games- which imo are far more disturbing.
      If you have any legitimate interest in the topics and themes of A Serbian Film, you should see the movie The Life and Death of a Porno Gang. A massively superior movie that deals with a lot of the same material, but to much better effect. Better script, better characters, more interesting premise, yet just as graphic and in my opinion- way more disturbing.

  • the sleep of reason

    From the suspense and imagination of Hitchcock and Clouzot to nowadays wanting extreme gore and everything shown in detail, moviegoers became … ‘more sophisticated’. Who writes this stuff??

  • Pingback: The 30 Most Extreme Movies of The 21st Century So Far | ELLEWORLD()

  • Ivan Milke

    The Life and Death of a Porno Gang (2009)
    is a 2009 Serbian horror film following a group of travelling sex show performers and pornographic filmmakers who are lured into making snuff films.

    • Joseph Sheldahl

      ^ such a better movie than A Serbian Film. It’s actually a really solid movie that deals with the same material as the former flick, but does it much better.

  • FlyteBro

    Oh boy, how I love Ex-Drummer! Great to see it gather some wider attention and acclaim. Fantastic list! =)

  • Jamie Decourley

    These are pretty mainstream for most genre fans. Where’s “Found”, “Scrapbook”, “In a glass cage”, & “Headless” ..just to name a few.

  • Thomas Cavalcanti

    Come and see it is a very disturbing war movie.

  • Dragutin Sparavalo

    A Serbian Film is just a lousy crap. The author tried to draw attention by trying to figure out what would shock the audience the most, and he exploited all he could remember – but none of it has real, dramatic, motivated strength, like for example Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible. Don’t waste your time over it. If you wanna see a real shocking movie that makes sense, try Cargo 200 by Alexey Balabanov.


      Cargo 200 is a glaring omission from this list!

  • Pingback: The 10 Most Popular Taste of Cinema Lists of 2015 |

  • ApathyNihilism

    Why would any want to watch any of these sadistic visions? Thank you for the list. I will be sure to avoid any and all of these masterpieces.

    • Joseph Sheldahl

      These movies aren’t for everyone, that’s for sure. I can appreciate someone who knows they won’t find anything to appreciate in these movies, nor will they find the material thought provoking- and avoids the movies, instead of watching them, and bitching about it.
      As to why anyone would watch these? It’s a change of pace. Movies, like art (and as art), can make you feel different things. Unfortunately, the common mainstream of movies seeks only to entertain- and on a basic level at that. A lot of these controversial movies have themes, messages, and ideas that can’t be easily packaged or conveyed without the violence and graphic brutality that will set the viewer on edge. It’s often thought provoking and fascinating if you can look at these movies and appreciate them from an analytical standpoint.

      Then there’s people who just like to see blood and guts.

      I’m a bit of both. I like to analyze and write about violence in movies, but I’m also a bit of a gorehound. Which is something I can’t really explain, but am constantly trying to.

  • Chrisychipz

    “without giving away too much of the plot” “…they’re cannibals” wow thanks

  • Chrisychipz

    You can’t have a list like this without Salo

    • darklordofgorgoroth

      Was Salò released in the 21st century? Nope

  • Jeff Rittenour

    a sad list of shite.

  • Joseph Sheldahl

    See, Sue McQueen hit the nail on the head when she said the movie (A Serbian Film) was more suggestive than anything. Which is why it didn’t phase me. I’ve seen documentaries that suggest things just as bad. The movie was poorly written and devoid of any really engaging characters. Not worthy of the controversy it’s garnered, nor worthy of the overblown reactions people have to it. I’ve seen worse things in passing on the internet than I ever saw in this movie. I expected something that was going to turn my stomach and scar me for life, but instead I was teetering on disinterest the entire time, and actually started snacking on pretzels halfway through. I can’t believe anyone without an appreciation or tolerance for extreme movies would jump right into this, but all the shocked reactions I’ve seen seem like people who’ve never seen an ‘extreme’ movie in their life. Go watch Antichrist dammit. Go watch Salo. Come back when you grow up. A Serbian Film was neither shocking nor good.

  • Peter Gibbon

    one of the best-written articles I’ve read here. thank you!

  • darklordofgorgoroth

    Martyrs should be number 1. It’s the only movie in years that actually disturbed me.
    Srpski Film and Irreversible should be further down the list, because Irreversible is overhyped, there’s really only 1 single scene going for it..
    And sad to say, Srpski Film is infact comedic..

  • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

    Some good stuff here, but I would only put Martyrs on the bottom five of such a list, if at all, as its hyperactive style wipes almost any tension, atmosphere or character from its main block, its philosophically vacuous and skimps out on its climax. Bold performances and a bit of good bloodshed, but a huge disappointment given its reputation as something of a modern classic.

  • Bob Loblaw Lobs Law Bomb

    You could have just listed the last 30 films that Takashi Miike has made in the last 2 years or so and called it a day.

  • Katinka Min

    Hm… I tend not to watch horror films but since people seem to look for depravity in movies how about Pasolini’s ‘120 Days of Sodom’? It’s not as ‘dramatic’ as a modern Horror film but you certainly won’t forget what you’ve seen.

  • Janko TheTank Gontarek

    oh for fuck sake, fucking stop with a serbian film. its not that disturbing get over it!

  • Vasilis Moschos

    “Miss Violence”, by Alexandros Avranas could also make it in the list.

  • Vasilis Moschos

    “Cargo 200” as well, they just keep coming in my mind. Huge bias towards French and Asian films in the list…

  • Daniel

    Eden Lake is extreme, alright. Extreme right-wing prejudice bullcrap.

  • happy hayden

    “The Raid: Berendal” is conspicuously missing from this list.

  • Kgosi Choene

    Antichrist should be here

  • Greg Lawrence

    Possession doesn’t even get a mention?