5. The Bunny Game (2010)
This film is the most extreme of all the films on this list due to its very explicit depiction of sex and violence specifically focused on one woman throughout the course of its 76 minute running time. “The Bunny Game” is essentially an extended detour of defiling and degradation inflicted upon a wayward drug-addled prostitute by a deranged truck driver on the outskirts of a western city.
But what sets this film apart is its singular vision focused on the nightmarish experience inflicted on a seemingly worthless individual for no apparent reason. Does a strung out skid-row level hooker deserve this kind of sadistic treatment? Is this film anything more than shock value entertainment?
Answering these questions becomes a bit more difficult when you realize “The Bunny Game” was co-written by its star Rodleen Getsic and was a very close collaboration between her and the director Adam Rehmeier.
Depending on your taste for a film like this whether you’re just curious or actively seeking out a movie as dark and uncompromising as this it is undeniably powerful and intense. “The Bunny Game” is a fascinating film that proves that violence in a genre film need not be all about bloodletting and gore to be potent and extreme.
Probably too many films are being made in the horror genre today that seem to focus on shock value alone with little to no interest in showing the horrifying and realistic consequences of that violence. “The Bunny Game” on the other hand is totally uncompromising and real… and even though its story is seemingly lacking in nuance and depth its direct visual assault leaves the viewer heavily impacted once the credits roll.
Note: Google lists the production budget for this film as $13,000.
Critical Praise: “The Bunny Game is so sickening, so disturbing and so unforgivingly raw that it ultimately leaves an unforgettable afterimage of ethereal beauty on your burned out eyeballs…Now THAT is pure horror: stripped, skinned and laid bare. It doesn’t get much more pure than this.” — Annie Riordan, Brutal As Hell
4. Silver Bullets (2011)
As with “Sun Don’t Shine” this film by prolific director Joe Swanberg tells a simple story that focuses on the distorted psychological dynamics of a young couple who are struggling to keep their relationship together despite many external forces working against them.
Unlike any other film on this list, though, “Silver Bullets” qualifies as a “Meta” film (or film that reminds you that you’re watching a film… or… a film that references its own making in multiple ways). It’s about a young independent film director played by director Joe Swanberg who is having difficulty maintaining a monogamous relationship with his girlfriend while at the same time making an indie film about getting into a passionate relationship with another actress.
Add to this Swanberg’s onscreen girlfriend is actually being cast in a larger budget indie movie and is being seduced by its director and you have a narrative that mirrors itself in strange ways with odd tangents involving scenes that seem to satire the entire creative process of filmmaking and being a young artist trying to make it in the industry.
Ultimately even though “Silver Bullets” has a very slow burn pace it does manage to build a unique kind of dramatic tension that you might find akin to a junior-grade Ingmar Bergman film but without the heavy degree of emotional exploration. Even still this film is challenging and provocative in ways few others like it dare to be even if its craftsmanship is a bit rough and its narrative momentum is languid.
Critical Praise: “Probably contains Swanberg’s clearest exposition of his philosophy, yet its sad aimlessness, from the mouth of an unhappy director (played by the helmer), elicits only a begrudging pity.” — Richard Brody –The New Yorker
3. Jug Face (2013)
An unusual and unsettling film about distorted family dynamics, worshipping false idols and a vengeful supernatural presence that haunts a backwoods “hillbilly” clan “Jug Face” is an ambitious film that fits more in the category of thriller than horror but its overall narrative infuses the aforementioned story elements very cohesively.
While the concept of a family being haunted by an otherworldly presence is nothing new this little film takes it into new uncharted territory by focusing the haunting mostly within realistic psychological boundaries and innovatively crafting the key element of the “Jug Face” as a hub for these increasingly horrific events to be based around.
Despite its lower budget the film manages to create a sense of realism and grit through the committed work of the director, the actors, the production design and the evocative cinematography and music score.
Critical Praise: “Kinkle shows welcome restraint in pacing his grimy little tale, even if the sum of its parts never quite feels like more than an admirably rendered campfire yarn.” — Robert Abele — Los Angeles Times
2. Midnight Son (2011)
A very human-scale vampire film “Midnight Son” is set in a contemporary netherworld of a young man who is suffering from a consumptive disease that makes him crave human blood to sustain himself. As we follow his transformation we also learn of his lust for a young woman.
“Midnight Son” creates an innovative realistic spin on the concept of a modern vampire that is somewhat similar to George Romero’s cult film “Martin”(1977).
As we follow the transformation of the main character in becoming more of the nocturnal blood-sucking variety director Scott Leberecht brings a fresh sense of relatable dread and tension to the story. Yet again for a film produced on a very limited budget, reportedly under $100,000, all the production values and craftsmanship are very professionally done.
Critical Praise: “A frightening story, plausibly developed within a relatively brief running time, and the central love between the male protagonist increasingly addicted to blood and a girl addicted to cocaine is oddly moving.” — Philip French, The Observer newspaper
1. Expressway To Your Skull (2015)
Here we are at number one and I cannot resist including my own recently released feature film on this list for 2 main reasons… 1) Because any other intrepid indie filmmaker working outside the mainstream would probably do the same to promote their work and 2) If you’ve actually taken the time to read through this entire list you will probably recognize by now that I’m a writer ( and filmmaker) who favors breaking the rules and pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable. In short — I tend to favor the “underdog”.
All that being said I can only recommend my film as I have in my press release write-up to potential film critics, bloggers, and reviewers online when I was promoting its release last fall and that was laid out as follows…
“Expressway” is a labor of love, of course, but, as many discerning viewers have pointed out to me in private screenings, the film is also “challenging”, “intense” and “visually striking”… The product of a long road of very hard work from a dedicated cast and crew.
What my film may be lacking in star power it makes up for in gritty realism, haunting atmosphere, and psychedelic visuals. “Expressway” is not your typical “Slasher-in-the-woods-killing-teens” flick and it’s not a parody or satire of the genre either… its something different. We call it a “Psychedelic Horror-Thriller”.
Critical Praise: “This is a fun little flick. Okum has a real skill at making the mundane look exceptional… be it through Oliver Stone-esque montage cuts or simply letting the lens show what it might feel like to be on the drugs the campers are on.” — Ambush Bug — Aint It Cool News Horror
Author Bio: Michael Okum is a film director and visual artist living in California. His first independent feature film as writer-director, the psychedelic horror-thriller “Expressway To Your Skull” is currently out now On Demand. Check out the trailer at www.expresswaytoyourskull.com.