5. Darren Aronofsky
A divisive director throughout his career, Darren Aronofsky is an uncompromising director and a man with an unwavering vision. His films range from controversial biblical epics to kinetic drug-fuelled nightmares. As a director, Aronofsky is obsessed with the human condition and the extremes our various demons can take us to. Often these demons manifest themselves, through Aronofsky’s meticulous guidance, in the form of the grotesque and the disgusting.
Early in his career Aronofsky released Requiem for a Dream, a film that explores the limitless toll that addiction can take on a person. In his exploration Aronofsky does not shy away from the brutal reality of addiction; its physical and mental impact taking an infectious and rotting form. Think of Harry’s (Jared Leto) diseased, decaying and syringed-marked arm; Sara’s (Ellen Burstyn) disorientating descent into psychosis; and that infamous dildo scene.
This year Aronofsky released his most disturbing and polarising film to date: Mother!. The film is designed to provoke and disgust as part of Aronofsky’s overall message about the dark nature that lives within all of us. Throughout its runtime the film slowly descends into madness and it is through this insanity that Aronofsky’s disturbing mind is set loose. We witness many anxiety-inducing scenes of social unrest, floorboards that ooze blood, a woman horrifically burned and, finally, a new born baby having its neck snapped by a frantic crowd before they cannibalise its corpse. Very disturbing stuff indeed.
4. Lars von Trier
It would appear that Lars Von Trier’s motive as a filmmaker is to provoke his audiences into addressing what they are and uncovering the flaws in society as a whole. His cinema is one of heartbreak and brutality at the hands of seemingly normal people. He is a brutally honest filmmaker that operates in the disturbing for a better understanding of the darker side of human nature.
His most disturbing work includes The Idiots, Dogville, Antichrist and Nymphomaniac. What makes these films so disturbing, aside from their direct approach to depicting horrific occurrences, is how they are so grounded in reality. The Idiots, one of the first cases of the Dogme ’95 movement, takes a documentary approach to depicting the life of a group of people who pretend to be mentally handicapped so that they can express themselves with no inhibitions.
The film is of course controversial, but what is perhaps most disturbing is how uncomfortable it is to watch these people act in a way that is greatly inappropriate whilst risking being caught out at any second. The realism of the Dogme style of filmmaking makes these scenes incredibly disturbing.
With Dogville and Nymphomaniac, von Trier conjures some truly disturbing moments that essentially have the vulnerable preyed upon by the one person they trusted. It is this heart-breaking breach of trust, the notion that everyone is sadistic deep down, that makes these films such a troubling watch. With Antichrist the director takes his disturbed mind to its limit by displaying horrific scenes of genital mutilation amongst other gruesome acts.
3. David Lynch
David Lynch will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest filmmakers that ever existed. Lynch changed the way we engage with reality, often in the most cinematic and grotesque ways imaginable. His distinctive style has elevated the auteur to legendary status, whilst his deranged view of society has always defined him as one of the most compelling filmmakers.
David Lynch arrived on the scene with his insane debut, Eraserhead, a film depicting an exasperated new father (Jack Nance) trying to care for his mutant baby. Eraserhead exist in a surreal nightmare-scape where cooked meat oozes strange liquid, a man operates the planet from a tiny room using a series of levers, a woman with a disfigured head lives in a radiator, and the environment is seemingly one endless industrial estate.
Lynch specialises in manifesting our nightmares, in making the unseen visible and palpable. The mutant baby in Eraserhead serves as a physical representation of the anxiety and fear surrounding becoming a father. The deformed body of John Merrick (John Hurt) in Elephant Man represents the embodiment of societies prejudice and vanity. The violent sexual assault that Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini) falls victim to in Blue Velvet can be seen as a commentary on how society depicts and treats women. In short, Lynch uses disturbing imagery as social commentary and to reveal our inner most anxieties.
2. Gaspar Noé
Gaspar Noé is a controversial, Argentinian-born, French filmmaker who has made only four films to date but each in their own way, and seemingly unashamedly, tackle enormous social taboos. He is known for his maverick visual style; groundbreaking use of camera, and his troubling narratives, which often contain extremely deranged characters, disturbing ideas, and horrific imagery.
Noé’s debut, I Stand Alone, a sequel to his own short film, Carne, which opens with a long sequence depicting the explicit and extremely realistic butchering of a horse, serves as a suitable introduction into the director’s twisted mind. The film contains many disturbing scenes and notions such as a father lusting after his mentally unstable daughter, eventually succumbing to his desires and abusing her; his own abuse as a child by a priest; and the beating of a pregnant woman (and most likely the murder of an unborn child). His following films would continue Noé’s bizarre obsession with sex and violence.
Noé’s Irréversible is a groundbreaking piece of cinema that places the camera as a character and has it float through the world of the film. The film itself is told in reverse as a man (Vincent Cassel) desperately, and through intense violence, seeks vengeance for the rape of his girlfriend (Monica Bellucci). The rape sequence itself in an agonisingly long sequence, depicted over several minutes of screen time, and the film’s depiction of violence in general is extremely horrific.
Noé’s obsession with ultra-violence, incest and sexual assault juxtaposed with his inventive and elegant photography makes him one of the most disturbing and intriguing filmmakers working today.
1. Takashi Miike
Despite earning himself a reputation as a provocateur and master of violent cinema, Takashi Miike began his career directing straight-to-video comedy-action films. It was not until the latter half of his career, after a series of increasingly violent Yakuza films that the infamous director began to work on more disturbing narratives.
His most well known feature, Ichi the Killer, tells the story of a sadistic killer caught up in a Yakuza civil war. Ichi is manipulated into become a deranged and unpredictable murderer who takes lives in the most violent ways. The film contains many scenes of extreme torture and with the addition of Ichi’s perverse sexual attraction to violence the film stands as a terrifying journey into the most twisted places operating in the criminal underworld.
Miike’s violent horror cinema has become notorious around the world for its extreme depiction of sadistic acts of violence. Miike lingers on unadulterated scenes of torture that challenge the endurance of even the most hardened of horror fans. The nature of his work harkens us back to Friedkin’s quote and the idea that a director’s products are just a reflection of mind that made them. As with the other directors on this list, Miike’s obsession with violence, terrifying situations and grotesque imagery can be read as a reflection of the disturbed mind of the filmmaker, or of the extremes of human nature in general.
Author Bio: A movie lover from England with a passion for writing about cinema. Luke’s movie watching career has taken him from watching Jackie Chan movies on school nights to graduating with a masters degree in film studies.