By their very nature, dark comedies are not inherently made to be crowd pleasers, and are generally built on a darker and more pervasive sense of humor. They can be challenging and subversive, and as they appeal to a more narrow audience, many times they lack mainstream appeal. You don’t see a lot of dark comedies that get heavy marketing campaigns, and they are rarely massive box office successes.
Just because a film has a more twisted or satirical sense of humor in of itself doesn’t make it good, but a lot of great dark comedies have succeeded in pushing the boundaries of their genre and finding creative ways to tell their stories. Many of these films are massively underrated, and hopefully more audiences will discover them. Here are ten great recent dark comedies you’ve probably never seen.
10. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore
Macon Blair has become a rising star in micro budget films like Murder Party, Blue Ruin, and Thunder Road, and his directorial debut I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is a satisfying combination of satirizing American small town culture and providing outrageous violence. Melanie Lynskey stars as Ruth, a hospital employee who is robbed of many personal items. Frustrated by the authorities that seem to do nothing and don’t care about her, Ruth enlists her eccentric neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood) to help her track down the culprits.
Blair finds the humor in the continued escalation of the situation; Ruth is a sympathetic character who is understandably frustrated that no one seems to care about her, and as she grows more irritated with her surroundings, the story gets darker and the violence becomes more prevalent. Elijah Wood gives one of his best performances to date, and both he and Lynskey find the charm in playing two outsiders who form an unlikely alliance to track down criminals. Blair finds humor in the fact that neither character has any experience in the world of crime, and the result is an uproarious adventure that is equally grim and humorous.
The concept of a washed up television actor going on a real adventure has been done before in films like Galaxy Quest, but Mindhorn is a unique take on the familiar story. Julian Barratt stars as Richard Thorncroft, an actor best known for his performance as the famous television detective Richard Mindhorn in a hit 80s show; Thorncroft is now forgotten by the culture at large and is struggling to remain relevant, but an actual murder and an obsesseive fan force him to become the detective he pretended to be for years. The joy of the film comes from seeing the parallels drawn between the lives of Thorncroft and Mindhorn.
Where the film gets its darker edge is how committed it is in showing what it’s like to be an out of work actor. Thorncroft is forced to watch the ramifications of his show play out in real life, but he’s entering a world he has no experience in. The central mystery, which revolves around secrets held on the show’s original set, is genuinely interesting and adds to the crime element of the story. Barratt’s sad sack performance is also instrumental, as he plays Thorncroft as pathetic, hilarious, and charismatic all at once.
8. The Informant!
Steven Soderbergh’s breezy, kinetic style of filmmaking is perfect for this true story of Mark Witacre (Matt Damon), a corporate executive at Archer Daniels Midland that became a key informant in exposing price fixing tactics before being found guilty of embezzlement. Damon gives one of the best performances of his career; he seems to have the personality of a normal guy, but it’s never entirely clear what Witacre’s intentions are, as he constantly deceives the FBI, his employers at ADM, and even his family.
The excellent screenplay by Scott Z. Burns breaks down the legal minutia of the events with ease; it’s clear the type of culture that existed within ADM, and there’s also a commentary on how the media labeled Witacre a hero before discovering his own embezzlement schemes. The issues the film is grappling with are serious, but Soderbergh makes them humorous due to the sheer ridiculousness of the true story, particularly in how Witacre is forced to hide his wiretaps from his employers while informing on them. Thought provoking and uproarious, The Informant! finds creative ways to deal with its dark story.
Colossal has a great way of subverting the usual story of monster movies, as it explores how a woman (Anne Hathaway) inadvertently controls the actions of a massive monster destroying cities in Seoul. The film uses this fantastical premise to explore deeper issues; Hathaway’s character Gloria is dealing with alcoholism, and when revisiting her hometown, she is faced with her childhood bully Oscar (Jason Sudekis), who himself takes control of another monstrous creature.
The relationship between Gloria and Oscar is handled poignantly, and although the film doesn’t shy away from the realism of toxic relationships, the comedy of the monster subplot is the perfect mystery for Gloria to explore as she reflects on her past. The flashbacks are well woven into the central narrative, and the rules of how the monsters are controlled are well explained. Complete with zippy direction from Nacho Vigalondo and memorable supporting performances from Tim Blake Nelson, Dan Stevens, and Austin Stowell, Colossal is a creative story with interesting metaphorical implications.
6. Free Fire
Ben Wheatley is a unique filmmaker who can revel in the absurd and depict hilarious action sequences, and Free Fire is an interesting take on the chamber piece thriller that pits a great ensemble of actors against each other. The film follows the story of two rival groups of arms dealers who are trapped within a warehouse together to pull off a high profile deal. After the negotiations go awry, the two groups turn on each other, and a bloody barrage of violence ensues as the night goes on.
Each actor adds a different energy and perspective to the story. Sam Riley is often the centerpiece of the story, as his character Stevo starts off the conflict by teasing the other group, but Armie Hammer is also extraordinary as an eccentric dealer who never fails to deliver a good one liner. Cillian Murphy and Brie Larson are also very strong as two of the more moderate characters who nonetheless are forced to use their wits and will to survive. The brilliance of Free Fire is that each character is flawed in a key way, so when the characters turn on each other, it becomes entertaining to watch them tear each other apart.