Dark Comedies, or Black Comedies as they are sometimes called, are a unique genre that manages to blend comedy with darker elements, think Heathers (1988) or Jojo Rabbit (2019). Usually the subject matter of Dark Comedies circles topics such as death, mental health decline, murder, and societal injustice, with movies like Parasite (2019) and Ready or Not (2017) fitting that trope perfectly.
The previous decades have seen great variety in the kind of dark comedies that are being released, one only has to recall movies such as Lars and the Real Girl (2007) and The Lobster (2015), to see how diverse movies in this category can be.
1. Promising Young Woman (2020)
Writer-director Emerald Fennell’s first feature film grossed $19 million worldwide and was nominated in several categories including in the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress etc., taking home the prize for Best Original Screenplay. Fennell also managed to nab the Best Original Screenplay at the Critics’ Choice Awards, Writers’ Guild Awards, and British Academy Film Awards.
Promising Young Woman is a rare movie that manages to subvert genres seamlessly, with the movie dappling in dark comedy, revenge thriller, mystery, and just the right amount of a rom-com, giving the audience a little bit of everything and appealing to a wider demographic. At the heart of it, Promising Young Woman is a take on rape culture, trauma and revenge, and the movie doesn’t let you forget that with its take on a likable, but unpredictable protagonist played by Carey Mulligan (Cassandra).
Cassandra is a 30 something med-school dropout with a tortured past who lives with her parents and works at a coffee shop by day, and spends her nights pretending to be drunk, hunting for ‘nice guys’ who might try to take advantage of her, and if they do, she exacts her own form of revenge on them. When she re-connects with Ryan (Bo Burnham), a former classmate, her life takes a turn, and she begins to seek closure for what happened in the past.
Mulligan and Burnham’s chemistry is sugary sweet, tying in the pastel color scheme and neons the movie is famous for, add to that, Fennell’s focus on visual symmetry makes some of the shots in this movie reminiscent of work by Wes Anderson. The further artful use of symbolism and the overall emphasis on the disturbing subject matter being balanced with dark humor, makes the impact of this movie unsettling and lasting.
2. Fresh (2022)
Directed by Mimi Cave, Fresh is an interesting take on the modern day horrors that come with dating and stars Sebastian Stan (Steve) and Daisy Edgar-Jones (Noa). After running into each other in a grocery store and exchanging numbers, the pair go on a date and soon hit it off. After a weekend getaway, Noa soon realizes Steve may not be the man he claims to be.
Fresh takes—for lack of a better word—a fresh take on social commentary, life as a woman, and the dangers of online dating in the 21st century. Fresh has an unassuming beginning, setting the scene for the textbook modern day romance starting off with the perfect meet cute, till it flips the narrative completely. Sebastian Stan delivers some of the best acting of his career, his ability to turn on his charm and then leave the audience wholly frightened in the very next scene makes the movie all the more layered. With gory scenes and uncanny scenarios to show Noa’s spiraling mental health, the humor in this movie serves two purposes, as a comic relief taking some weight off the distressing events that unfold, and as sarcastic jabs as social commentary surrounding modern day dating culture.
Daisy Edgar-Jones embodies the role of Noa to such a believable extent, making her experience, or rather failure, in the dating scene, extremely relatable. She’s funny, without having to try too hard and her bond with her best friend Mollie (Jonica “Jojo” T. Gibbs) serves as a surprisingly good and hilarious arc in the movie. All in all, Fresh is a great late night movie if you need something witty and fast paced, that actually stands out from the hoard of thrillers released every year.
3. Ingrid Goes West (2017)
One of Aubrey Plaza’s lesser known works, Ingrid Goes West, sees her take on the role of a social media obsessed stalker, Ingrid Thorburn, who becomes infatuated with an Instagram influencer, Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). From the start of the movie, it is clear that Ingrid is a troubled woman, and her ways of interacting with Taylor are proof enough of that, as she relocates to a place in LA to be closer to her, mimics her fashion style and hair, frequents the same stores as hers, going as far as kidnapping her dog and returning it, so she has a chance to speak to her.
Matt Spicer, expertly balances humor with an unstable protagonist at the helm of it, Plaza’s acting outstanding even in the most bizarre of situations. On top of that, Olsen plays the pretentious trope of what we expect lifestyle influencers to be like in person, in their full avocado toast for breakfast eating glory.
Ingrid’s fixation with Taylor becomes more extreme as the movie progresses, and her attempts to keep up with her fabricated lifestyle become harder to maintain. The movie is a satirical take on a perfectly curated (and superficial) lifestyle and doesn’t shy away from pointing out all the many pitfalls of having a social media persona and how perceptions of influencers and looking up to them as role models can be so flawed.
4. 8 Women (2002)
A French dark comedy musical set in the 1950s in the remote countryside, 8 Women is based off the play by Robert Thomas and stars an impressive ensemble cast including Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Béart, Isabelle Huppert, Danielle Darrieux, Fanny Ardant, Firmine Richard, Ludivine Sagnier and Virginie Ledoyen, so it’s no surprise that the movie is considered a cult classic and managed to make over $42 million worldwide.
The movie revolves around the 8 women who find themselves suspects in the murder of the Master of the house, after they had all gathered to spend Christmas together at his estate. In this whodunit, to matters more complex, each of the eight women have their set of motives and mountain of secrets they are hiding. Unable to call for help, the women find themselves trying to figure out who the murderer amongst themselves is.
The movie does a great job showcasing the absurdity of the unfortunate situation they are in with increasingly chaotic scenes and revelations of family secrets and resentments. All the women possess very distinct personalities and their interactions with each other are a delight to watch, not to mention the share of physical comedy the movie utilizes too. The flick employs some similar tactics to 1985’s Clue, especially in its comedic approach and whodunit style, but 8 Women manages to mix drama and focus on character growth, whilst also being surprisingly very hilarious.
5. Game Night (2018)
Despite being a success on the box office, Game Night is an often forgotten dark comedy starring Jason Bateman (Max Davis) and Rachel McAdams (Annie Davis). The story follows a group of friends who get together frequently for game nights but when one of their friend, Brooke (Kyle Chandler), gets brutally kidnapped in front of them, they set out to rescue him.
The movie focuses on developing healthy a banter between the friends and the humor, intermixed with suspense, makes the movie all the more enjoyable. One particular scene where Rachel McAdams bursts into song, singing Third Blind Eye’s Semi-Charmed Life is one of the most hilarious scenes in the movie. Indeed, Rachel McAdams shines as the star in this movie, her ability to be the comic relief, while still balancing some of the darker elements of the movie, displays her range like never before, and is a welcome surprise in the movie. Bateman’s chemistry with McAdams and his deadpan humor and dry wit, ends up making even the simplest scenes in the movies funnier than one would expect.