There are certain films that are too much for some to handle. They can be violent, extreme, uncomfortable, offensive or just so downright awful one has to avert direct eye contact.
However, there are movies – a fine selection of them – that had the magnificent prowess, if one may call it so, to actually make people feel sick. As in real sick, down to their stomachs. There is a myriad of reasons why and how these films managed to get so much under the skin of its viewers, and in many cases discussion arises as to whether the movies should have gone down that road.
Genius, unnecessary, exploitative, efficient, memorable… there have been many adjectives thrown around to describe and analyze these movies. Without further ado, here are some films that literally made people sick.
Starting off the list with the most recent example of a film to have elicited extreme physical reactions from its audience was always an interesting prospect. First of all, one presents the films and its themes and subjects but, most important, it also gives a body-horror-aficionado reader the chance to keep both eyes open for when the film opens in theaters. Because if you’re a horror movie devotee, and a fan of David Cronenberg’s works, then Raw will definitely be your cup of tea.
A subversively innovative coming of age film that replaces sexual awakenings and first relationships with full-fledged fraternal cannibalism, Raw tells the story of a young girl’s journey from vegetarianism to hardcore lust for human flesh. Shocking and unnerving, Raw holds no barriers in its most graphic scenes, especially when time comes for the camera to glance upon bite marks, lacerations and skin rashes in all their practical effects glory.
Matter of fact, it was this glorious appeal (if one may call it so) that made the film infamous right from its get-go at international films festivals. Initial screenings at Toronto had to be interrupted – and paramedics immediately brought to the scene – after multiple audience members reportedly fainted during some of the movie’s most climatic moments.
Other patrons who attended such screenings later tweeted that some viewers barfed while others even had to be put on stretchers and rolled out of the theater.
Whichever way you put it, Raw is a bloody good (pun intended) horror film to watch if you’re into teenage girls chowing down on mutilated fingers like it’s a cob of corn. Yea, that’s a thing.
A movie that proudly boasts in its DVD cover that it managed to make 300 people leave the theater during its first ever screening at the Cannes Film Festival really only had one goal in mind: make you sick and revolted. And if ever there was a filmmaker that walked this earth who was up to the task, then that man was definitely Gaspar Noé.
Irréversible tells the story of three people living through the worst day you could ever possibly imagine. If one had to put it into more specific terms, it centers around a man’s path to avenge his fiancée’s brutal rape and beating. Only everything goes wrong in the most horrendous of ways, and Irréversible doesn’t pull any punches in showing gruesome violence and its aftermath in painfully realistic details.
There are several factors at play here to explain how the film managed to get 20 people to swoon and pass out during its first ever screening. Thematically, the film handles violent, controversial subjects and does not shy away from showing gruesome violence to the audience, be it the now-infamous rape scene (told in a single take lasting over 9 minutes) or the fire extinguisher revenge (those who’ve seen the movie are well aware of what that means).
Aesthetically speaking, the film was shot and edited to incite dizziness upon the viewer. The camera spins and gyrates through long elaborate takes as if it were hung at the end of a rope. Constantly it will whip-pan and swing back and forth like crazy, which is a major trigger warning for anyone with even slight motion sickness.
Furthermore, throughout the entirety of Irréversible, Gaspar Noé included a low reverberating note, much akin to a sound heard when earthquakes strike. This note, although inaudible, impacts the labyrinthine part of the ears and can cause actual anxiety and panic attacks.
None expected horror anthology V/H/S to have any real impact when it first came out, back in 2012. But lo and behold, some commercial success and two sequels later, it has become a little cult gem for found footage aficionados. Featuring shorts from now renowned genre filmmakers (Ti West and Adam Wingard, most prominently), it also managed to get a couple of people to get up from their seats and then go straight to the floor.
The incidents happened during the film’s first segment, Amateur Night, directed by David Bruckner. The short tells the story of three young men on a night out, attempting to find a girl to go home with the shiest one of them. When they find a similarly strange girl at a bar and take her back to the motel with them, all goes horribly wrong when she reveals herself to be something way, way worse than they could have ever imagined.
Hand-held cam is prone to induce a lot of headaches, that’s a given. The shakiness, the fast camera movements, the blurred imagery. All of that can prove itself to be too much for some to handle. Add to it violent, horrifying subjects and you got yourself a movie that, much like V/H/S, has a lot going for it in terms of building potential to make people feel sick.
In the case of the horror omnibus flick, reports stated that a viewer at Sundance fainted during the “first particularly gruesome scene”, which was coincidently the same scene that caused a viewer to pass out only a week later, when the film was being exhibited in LA.
7. 127 Hours
Danny Boyle isn’t a director unfamiliar to extreme imagery. Although he had rarely indulged in graphic gore and gruesome violence beforehand, he was the man responsible for making Ewan Mcgregor’s Renton go down the flush of a repulsively filthy public toilet in Trainspotting. But even so, nothing could have prepared him – or the audiences – for what he had in store come 2010.
127 Hours tells the true story of rock-climber Aron Ralston, who sprung to scene and headlines world over after having had his arm pinned and crushed by a boulder whilst climbing a canyon. After five days of pain and agony, Ralston saw that, if he wanted to live, he would have to take extreme measures. As in amputating his own arm. With a utility knife.
If the thought of it alone is enough to make you skirmish and shiver, imagine sitting through an extended, graphic sequence depicting the breaking of bones, cutting of nerves and hacking of flesh. Imagine grasping at the utter pain and torture that must be like. If you have the tiniest shred of empathy, then you’ll definitely understand why it was that audience members were throwing up, passing out or even having seizures during 127 Hours’ climax.
People getting a bit light-headed was to be expected but around 13-16 people passing out, three people suffering seizures and even a viewer having a full-blown panic attack mid film? Film professionals and critics stated that not since The Exorcist had they seen such a reaction to a motion picture. You can say what you want about Boyle as a director, but there’s no denying the impact of that scene.
Ah, the mother of controversial and repulsive films. You cannot have a list on gross, disgusting and reviling films without mentioning Pier Paolo Pasolini’s magnum opus, released mere months before the director’s tragic demise. Suffice to say, it is a movie regarded by the one and only John Waters as a “beautiful film… that uses obscenity in an intelligent way”.
In short, Salò or 120 Days of Sodom is an adaptation of Marquis de Sade’s infamous novel depicting the horrible abuse of children and teenagers under the hand of French libertines in the 18th Century. Pasolini swapped the setting for Fascist Italy and made the degenerate libertines be Nazi officials. What followed was much of what was to be expected by any who had read Sade’s novel: an orgy of violence and degradation, culminating in mass rape and execution.
Arguably the most talked about scene in the movie arrives when the officials decide to have a feast. For that, they force-feed the children and tell them not to defecate for the length of an entire day (they even brutally punish a young boy who does so in his sleep). The next day, the whole bunch is presented a meal of human feces, which they all must take part in. The scene drags on for what feels like an eternity, and Pasolini’s choice of not cutting away truly reflects on all the nausea and barfing the scene elicits.
Salò would already be a harrowing watch sans coprophagy, with all its rape, torture, pedophilia and executions. But Pasolini just couldn’t contain himself and gave us one of the most repulsive scenes in film history.