Most people watch films as a form of recreation and entertainment. The reason why people watch films relates to escapism and a break from stressful reality, but there are films that do not offer these gratifying benefits.
Films are often used as instruments for directors and writers to bring and show us different places, where we witness unfamiliar and distinct people, experiences and lifestyles. They may be soul-crushing, terrifying, disturbing or traumatizing.
There are always themes and scenes that can stick in our minds for being powerful and influential, and can teach us something or scar us for life. These movies can be disturbing and scary and keep us up all night questioning what really happened or replaying scenes in our head; they might even follow us in our dreams.
This list has 15 movies with remarkable themes, stories and scenes that shocked their audiences and left a mark on every viewer’s mind. These movies caused controversies and confusion to everyone who watched, but it does not matter, as they served their purpose after all.
(The list contains minimal spoilers for some movies.)
1. Requiem for a Dream
The 2000 American psychological drama film depicts drug addiction in its different causes, effects and forms of destruction. Darren Aronofsky, the director of this award-winning film, is known for his surrealist and disturbing movies, such as “Pi” and “Black Swan”.
The story revolves around Harry (Jared Leto), a man who pawns his mother’s furniture to get drug money, and his mother (Ellen Burstyn), who takes prescription drugs religiously to lose weight so she can fit into an old dress to wear for a TV show. The story also involves Harry’s girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly) and best friend (Marlon Wayans) who are both drug addicts as well.
Aronofsky’s distinct style took a huge role in setting the mood and delivering the message the film conveys. He uses montages of short shots or edited in fast-motion with images that objectify the mental state of the characters. They are digging themselves deeper, until they hit rock bottom.
The more they become addicted, the more they are destroyed, both physically and mentally, and the movie straightforwardly showed this in a repulsive manner that can make you feel vulnerable and distressed.
The intensity of the music, acting and transition of scenes really make you sweat from nervousness and anxiety. Aronofsky said in a 2000 interview, “In a lot of ways, we looked at [it] as a monster movie.
The creature was invisible; it lived in their heads: Addiction.” This ‘monster’ surely lived not just in the characters’ heads but the viewers’ as well.
Most haunting scene: The mother’s hallucination with her television trying to attack and kill her.
2. Mysterious Skin
“Two boys. One can’t remember. The other can’t forget.” This is the tagline of the 2004 Dutch-American drama directed by Gregg Araki.
This film portrays a very depressing and traumatic story of a homosexual man and a boy who believes he was abducted by aliens when he was a child, and how they found their way to connect their dark past. Brian Lackey (Brady Corbet) decided to find out about a traumatic experience in the past and think that a childhood acquaintance,
Neil McCormick (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), could help him remember. Brian suffers from chronic nosebleeds and blackouts, and Neil is a teenage hustler who started prostituting himself at the age of 15.
The film premiered at the 61st Venice International Film Festival and received positive reviews. Gregg Araki did a spot-on job bringing out bold performances and anguished moods by presenting disturbing themes such as pedophilia and prostitution.
The sexual scenes, which are very unsettling and uncomfortable to watch, make you feel like you have a lump in your throat and leave the viewers heavy-hearted and melancholic. The viewers feel the suffering and angst the movie delivers. “Mysterious Skin” is definitely one the most beautiful films you would not want to watch again.
Most haunting scene: The weird and abusive intercourse between Neil and a client.
3. A Clockwork Orange
“A Clockwork Orange”, a 1971 futuristic film by Stanley Kubrick, portrays an ultra-violent and graphic story based on Anthony Burgess’ 1962 satiric novel of the same name.
The film is about Alex DeLarge, a British youngster who enjoys his boisterous life with his gang of ‘droogs’ and takes a great interest with rape, violence, robbery and Beethoven, and volunteers to be a subject of a psychological experiment that aims to find a cure to solve and stop the crime problems of the society.
The film shows a higher level of disturbing content through rape, physical assault, perversity and dark humor. The odd and powerful way of acting is absolutely what makes the film remarkable.
Malcolm McDowell, who played the role of Alex DeLarge, was critically acclaimed for his rebellious portrayal that effectively disturbs the viewers. The iconic scenes of Alex singing “Singin’ in the Rain” in the middle of his violent acts became a famous trademark of the movie.
“A Clockwork Orange” will give you an uneasy feeling from watching the brutality and heartless acts of the gang. The unique elements, such as the poetic dialogue that uses sarcasm and slang, and the futuristic production design and costumes that gives it a foreign atmosphere, helped the movie deliver an edgy yet weird mood to the viewers.
Most haunting scene: Pretty much every scene where Alex and his friends torture their victims.
4. Jacob’s Ladder
Adrian Lyne, the director of this 1990 psychological thriller, experimented in portraying a state of mind of a psychologically challenged person, and he succeeded.
The film is about a war veteran, Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins), who suffers from frequent nightmares and hallucinations while mourning his son’s death, and is still frightened by his wartime memories. The movie flashes back to his memories during the war and with his son, which would be distorted and slaughtered by his visions.
The film is so disorienting that you would not know what’s real and what’s not. The film showed a huge amount of violence and physically distorted characters that creep out the viewers.
The darkest part of the movie is the unraveling of the truth behind his visions, and it ended powerfully, revealing the biggest twist that made it the most shocking yet depressing scene throughout the movie, and is remarkably haunting and unforgettable.
Most haunting scene: Jacob Singer wakes up on a stretcher and being wheeled on a bloody hospital hallway with disfigured inmates.
5. The Innocents
This 1961 horror film was directed by Jack Clayton and was one of the first films to raise the bar high for horror and suspense. It was an adaptation of the classic novelette, “The Turn of the Screw”, written by Henry James. It leaves a question that is still unanswered, even after the film ended.
The story revolves around the supernatural story of Miss Giddens, played by Deborah Kerr, a young governess for two children who believes that the ghosts of the former governess and valet are possessing the children.
The unsolved mystery the viewers are debating over the years is whether the children were really possessed by the old governess and valet, or if Miss Giddens had just gone insane and imagined the supernatural events. This unanswered mystery is what makes the movie effectively haunting, as the feeling of uncertainty and confusion could be felt while viewing.
Jump scares and frightening scenes were also successfully made, even without the use of special effects. The transition of the children’s acting and characters from being innocent to being disturbingly clever add an eerie and creepy atmosphere. The way the movie succeeded in showing horror in its purest and human form gives the idea that evil surely lives within people.
Most haunting scene: The ghost of the former governess arrived to Miss Giddens on the lake.
The 2009 Cannes Film Festival Un Certain Regard winner made a buzz and set a trend in the Greek community when it was released. The oddness and sensitive themes highlighted the film and earned its attention and acknowledgement from the international filmmaking industry.
The movie is about a family who lives in a fenced compound with overprotective parents who keep their three children confined inside the premises, unaware and ignorant of what life outside is like.
Reaching the age of maturity, the children became bored and ran out of things to do, yet every move they make that leads them closer to discovering what “real” life really is about results in punishment. The parents stated that the only time they are allowed and will determine their preparedness for going out of the house is when their “dogtooth” falls out.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos made the film visually distressing. The disturbing innocence of the children and their sociopathic parents are a wise combination to give the viewers an unsettling feeling.
Hearing their parents make their children believe things like cats are monsters and will kill them, that zombies are flowers with yellow petals, and that it’s possible that a human can give birth to dogs, are overly cringe-worthy yet creepy in a sense that you can’t do anything but watch the brainwashing of the parents, and keep their dirty little secrets to their children.
Most haunting scene: Every 10 minutes of the film is haunting, actually.
7. Angel Heart
“Angel Heart” is a 1987 psychological horror film directed by Alan Parker. It was based on William Hjortsberg’s 1978 novel, “Falling Angel”.
The story follows a New York private investigator, Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke), who goes to New Orleans to investigate the disappearance of a man named Johnny Favorite after he was hired by a man named Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) for five thousand dollars. In the midst of his investigation, things took a turn when supernatural elements came into play.
The film’s last few scenes are the most intense. The confrontation between Harry and Louis reveals the story behind the investigation, as well as the unpleasant truth behind Harry’s identity.
A horrible and dark story was wonderfully and powerfully made, as the film is misleading and confusing to follow, and would just give you as much of a headache as Harry Angel has. It feels like solving a puzzle, but solving it doesn’t feel even close to rewarding.
The suspenseful twists and turns of the plot would make the viewers question the whole movie, after watching is both the best and worst things the film could do to the audience.
Most haunting scene: Harry having visions of blood dripping and splashing around the room while having sexual intercourse.