5. Don’t Breathe (Fede Alvarez, 2016)
Heading back to the mainstream Hollywood horror that we are all likely familiar with, Don’t Breathe was a pleasantly surprising example of a high-concept horror actually done right – something seen surprisingly infrequently at the moment in mainstream horror. The film is about a group of three people who decide to rob the house of an old and blind war veteran, but soon find themselves stuck in the house and in far more danger than they could have ever predicted.
Coming from Fede Alvarez, who also directed the generally-liked Evil Dead (2013) remake and who is surely set to make some more good horror, the film is surprisingly small scale and does a wonderful job of focusing in on truly terrifying concepts rather than following most modern horror and only focusing on supernatural horrors.
As with Unfriended: Dark Web, Don’t Breathe distances itself from the vast majority and finds another (not new, but different in comparison to the majority) way to scare. It isn’t perfect, and the ending is outright silly if we’re being completely honest, but it is still definitely disturbing and as entertaining as films really get! It’s a total breeze to watch, and will probably have you squirming at at least one scene – if you’ve seen it, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
4. 31 (Rob Zombie, 2016)
Rob Zombie is known for his contributions to horror cinema, and mostly known for his mixing of art cinema, modern American mumblecore and extreme horror. In 31, these themes come together and Zombie goes all out to make one of the most formally aggressive and outright exhausting horror films of recent memory. Whilst some dismiss the constantly moving camera, frequent blurring, vulgar dialogue and over-the-top characters as mistakes or flaws, some have clicked onto the fact that these are Zombie’s usual traits and that he is using them carefully to construct one of the most aggressive horror films available.
Zombie continues to push in the same way that he has for the majority of his career, and instead of giving in to making elevated horror as so many horror directors do in trying to make formally innovative works, Zombie goes the other way and stands up for horror as a genre by diving into the extremes to make his point. It’s a stunning film with a strong point about modern horror, and one of the many great films Zombie has made! And it is really… really disgusting and disturbing… only Zombie could do it to this level, really.
3. Darling (Mickey Keating, 2015)
Sure, amateurish black and white horrors aren’t often great… but this one is. Despite the fact that this film is quite basic in approach, the choices throughout in terms of fear factor are very impressive. Lifting its plot template from a number of films including Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) among others, Mickey Keating’s Darling is a basic but seriously disturbing horror film that, similar to the next entry, is much about loneliness as well as the fears of modern young women.
It isn’t a perfect film (far from it), but at such a short runtime (78 mins) and considering that it is riffing on Tobe Hopper (his Toolbox Murders) and Polanski (the aforementioned Repulsion), it’s still worth watching, and some of the jarring edits really are soul-shaking. Perhaps the least disturbing of all the films featured, but it is certainly memorable even if it does hinge on the editing more than most for the scares.
2. The Blackcoat’s Daughter (Oz Perkins, 2015)
Ending the list with a film far less focused on outright scaring the audience but rather creeping them out slowly and making them feel terrible before a grand finale so good that this is solidified as one of the most overlooked horror films of the century so far, Oz Perkins’ 2015 film The Blackcoat’s Daughter (also known as February) seems just about right. Not only is the film seriously frightening, but the use of form and of subtext makes for one of the most piercing portrayals of the pain that comes with loneliness and the effect that loneliness can have on an individual and the focus on such a topic makes this one twice as strong, giving it a staying power that a lot of other horror lacks.
Of course, this staying power also means that the film leaves a mark, and it isn’t the kind of mark that you want to forget. It’s a shame that Perkins hasn’t yet made another film that truly stands out (to me, anyway), but it is always great to know that gothic horror like this still has a place in the world, even if it is only a small one.
1. A Serbian Film (Srdan Spasojevic, 2010)
Is there even anything new to even say about A Serbian Film by now? Maybe not, but to say that it is a film that truly toes the line between high brow and low brow, in a way that few other films manage to do. It is interesting to see a film about grabbing attention through violence and sex turn to doing… exactly that, proving its own point at the same time as making itself look hypocritical – the film is either one of the true works of genius of recent memory or it is the complete opposite, true buffoonery.
It’s not so easy to tell, either, but A Serbian Film is likely more well known for the discourse about film censorship and when film is or isn’t an art form among others then for the content of the film itself, mainly because it is so difficult to get your hands on an uncut version of the film, especially now. Whilst the uncut version is definitely disturbing, this doesn’t necessarily make it good – a film that makes a direct choice to have a man unknowingly have sex with his son’s dead body is definitely… going for something – whether that something is a philosophical piece on what it takes to become financially successful as a horror film in the modern film industry (especially as a foreign film, which have to resort more on violence/gore/taboos in general) or if it is more just going for taking shock value to the extreme, I guess we’ll never really know.
It’s not too likely that the director would come out and say that he was aiming to shock and disturb without contributing any kind of meaning, but it is also very easy to add in meanings and mould them to fit the content of whatever project. It’s a hard film to talk about, mainly because the discourse around it is so divided, but for what it’s worth, for those of you who are looking for something disturbing and somehow haven’t seen this, then this will do the trick whether you like the film or not. At the very least, you’ll be succinctly disturbed and at worst you’ll feel morally violated – a gamble that fans os disturbing horror are forced to face more often than the vast majority of film fans.