5. Crash (David Cronenberg, 1996)
Ah, David Cronenberg… making audiences feel uncomfortable in their own skin since 1975. Crash, particularly, may just take the cake for the most uncomfortable David Cronenberg film, as the films sees him investigate sex and the horrors of the future through the repeated use of seriously intense car crashing sequences and very explicit sexual sequences. The film’s atmosphere is the real kicker, though, as it is impossible to shake yourself out of it, or to stay detached unless, like some viewers you’re taken out of the film because “it’s just wrong”, morally to some.
The quote that BBC critic Mark Kermode often uses, even if not in response to Cronenberg’s film, is that films make him “want to bath in Clorox”, and this one can be accurately used to describe the feeling that Cronenberg’s Crash gives. It is a disturbing film, one that becomes hard to sit through for the amount of discomfort in every shot, and for that reason, it’s most certainly not one to watch with your parents.
4. Irreversible (Gaspar Noe, 2002)
Gaspar Noe has rapidly made a name for himself as one of the great contemporary provocative directors, from his 2015 film LOVE, which details the sex life of a young student, using real sex and showing it in 3D, to his earlier Enter The Void which is a bizarre, long messy spiritual journey going from life to birth, literally showing the cycle of life through one of the most colourful films ever crafted. The neon is everywhere, including in an incredibly uncomfortable close-up from inside of a woman as a man ejaculates in her, leading to a baby being born later on – rebirth.
Irreversible is the most shocking and uncomfortable of them all though, and it takes that achievement and earns it. It’s a dizzying portrayal of one horrendous day, that goes backwards in time as we see the desperate actions of the characters and gradually learn their reasoning for them. It’s incredibly disturbing, severely uncomfortable and seriously depressing, with the nihilistic ideology of “time destroys everything”.
The camera spins, the sound design of the film is literally intended to make the audience feel nauseous and the use of special effects to enhance a five minute long, one take rape sequence and to show a man as his head is crushed by a fire extinguisher, with each hit to the head being more disgusting than the last, it feels like everything in this film is intended to make the audience as upset as humanly possible, and that’s before we see the tender romance shared that morning at the very end of the film, and before Noe throws us into the deep end one last time with a swirling shot that would make anyone dizzy.
3. Pink Flamingos (John Waters, 1972)
A John Waters film was bound to be here, if we’re honest. He is one of cinema’s most relevant provocateurs, with Multiple Maniacs In 1970 being one of the most easily recognisable bizarre midnight movies to ever be made.
John Waters has quite a reputation as one of cinema’s most wonderful weirdos, and it was arguably with Pink Flamingos that he really started to build this reputation. And deservedly so, the film is completely and utterly bizarre. From the bizarre characters, the low budget style and the overall Waters feel, as if it wasn’t enough, to the possibly real scene wherein Lady Divine literally eats poo, needless to say Pink Flamingos is one of the strangest films ever mad.
It is strange, uncomfortable and horrendously awkward just to see alone, and watching with parents sounds like a literal complete nightmare.
2. Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)
Shame, directed by Steve McQueen and released in 2011, is an absolute masterpiece. The performances are breathtaking, the story is shockingly emotional, the score is the best score produced this decade and the cinematography is stunning. Sounds great, right? Well, what if you found out that it was about a sex addict, crippled by his need for a fix, as it were.
There’s a distinct kind of desperation portrayed in Shame, one that sees a man (literally) stripped down to nothing. And if the frequent sex and masturbation scenes on screen weren’t distressing enough, or awkward enough to watch with a parent, just wait until the ending, which is so incredibly poignant that you will likely find yourself close to tears.
It’s an incredibly saddening film, and on top of everything else it also features scenes regarding troubled pasts, suicide, desperation and all kinds of other severely depressing things, portrayed in such a brutally honest fashion that they’re impossible to ignore and even harder to forget.
Not only is Shame a masterpiece of the highest order, it’s also one of the saddest films ever made, and that kind of severe sadness placed against the explicit sex scenes creates a truly uncomfortable atmosphere. As it happens, Michael Fassbender, the film’s main actor, is said to have brought his mother to the first screening. Oops.
1. Salo (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975)
This just had to have a spot on here, and if any film earns the absolute top spot for extreme cinema, it just has to be Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom. Pasolini is well known for being one of the most provocative directors to ever make films, and Salo is definitely his most offensive film, or at least, the one most likely to offend. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, the film contains literal poop-eating, nudity, frequent torture sequences and just about everything that could offend someone.
It is so straight faced in the approach, too, that it is even harder to stomach. But what makes it all so much stronger as a film is the fact that there is a legitimate reason behind the extreme images on screen, the film is a harsh, borderline satirical takedown of fascism, and a haunting one at that.
Surely, there simply can’t be a more extreme film out there, anywhere. Salo takes the prize for the most difficult to watch, and what makes that so interesting is the fact that it is genuinely an awarding watch, despite the brutality of it all.