Top 5 Soul-Crushing Films
The films that I’ve always enjoyed most are those that really affect me deep down. I’m not even sure if enjoy is the right word, but films are art, and art is supposed to make you feel something, even if that something may be self-loathing. My wife doesn’t share my affinity for these bleak soul-crushers, so I’m typically left to ride these emotional hell-rides alone, probably as it should be. I’ve decided to stray from horror for this post and compile my personal top 5 list of soul-crushing films. These films are meant to destroy you and drag you through whatever hell our characters themselves are suffering. So test your mental fortitude and dive right in if you dare.
5. Benny’s Video
“Obsessed with violent movies and video technology, 14-year-old Benny takes advantage of his parents’ absence to have a girl come over and watch a tape of a pig slaughter he has viewed repeatedly. Afterward, he kills her with the slaughtering gun used in the video and records the murder. His parents decide to cover up his crime. While his mother takes a seemingly indifferent Benny to Egypt, his father gets rid of the evidence.”
Having already been familiar with Haneke’s later work (Funny Games, Time of the Wolf, The Piano Teacher), I thought I knew what I was in for with Benny’s Video. That assumption proved to be false. Between this and Funny Games, Haneke has proven he has a knack for creating the most mechanical killers to ever grace (or curse) our screens. Benny operates without emotion, which is exactly what bothered me so much about this film, landing it on this list.
Benny’s Video is a cautionary tale showing the dehumanizing effects media can have on impressionable children. And to think…this was 1992. We are talking pre-internet, so I can only imagine how things have only gotten worse since. In my opinion, it’s not actually the videos themselves that influenced Benny, but rather the neglect of his parents. I can see how that would lead to a kid blurring the lines of fiction and reality if he was never really taught right and wrong in the first place. He was pretty much programmed to be an emotionless robot. In a nutshell, this film is as cold-hearted as it gets. It’s bleak and lacks any sign of emotion, treating life and death as nothing more than something out of a video.
4. The Hunt
“Lucas finally gets his life in order after a tough divorce. He now has a new girlfriend, a new job as a kindergarten teacher and is re-establishing a relationship with his son, Marcus. But everything changes at Christmas when a terrible lie is told that Lucas is a child molester. Although false, the news quickly spreads and ignites a witch hunt, threatening to destroy the life he worked so hard to build.”
The Hunt was not my introduction to Mads Mikkelsen, but it was definitely when I realized just how special of an actor he really is. His performance is one of the most heart-breaking that I’ve ever seen. This film truly manages to break you down on so many levels. I’ve never felt so simultaneously sad and angry. How long can a man fight to prove his innocence, and how long until he gives up once his will has been broken? It’s one of those films that keeps getting worse, and you have that gut feeling things are never actually going to get better.
With its simple premise, The Hunt shows you the immense power of words. It easily throws the old “Sticks and Stones” saying out the window. Words can, in fact, completely ruin someone. It’s interesting to think about how certain words, especially when spoken by a child, can erase all benefit of doubt, sending people into a frenzy. A simple misconception turns traditional storytelling on its head, making the antagonist the victim, and the protagonist the monster. Overall, Mikkelsen’s performance truly destroyed me. He pulls you in, forcing you to share this gut-wrenching experience along with him, leaving you completely and utterly drained by the time the credits roll. Whether you like the feeling or not, that’s what good films are supposed to do.
3. The Living and the Dead
“A descent into Hell is triggered when “Ex-Lord” Donald Brocklebank finds that he must leave Longleigh House for London to find a way to pay for the medical treatments for his wife, Nancy. Alone, his over-protective, mentally ill son, James, fancies himself in charge of the manor house with his terminally ill mother, and barricades the two of them into the house for a series of ever more panicked home treatments, mistakenly protecting her from the arrival of Nurse Mary and any outside help.”
This is easily one of the most disturbing films I’ve ever seen. I remember thinking how things could possibly get any worse multiple times before the film ended. It sends you on a dark journey through so many different emotions. Sadness, pity, guilt, fear, anger, confusion — it’s all there. It left me disoriented and sick to my stomach. The Living and the Dead is a woeful glimpse into grief and the effect it can have on a family, and it pulls no punches.
What starts as a story of dependency, quickly unravels into depravity. It’s a scary thought, actually… the mentally ill taking care of the terminally ill. A helpless, bedridden victim left alone in a house with their mentally-handicapped son, trying his best to be the man of the house and do what’s right, only to become more and more upset and emotionally unstable as he senses his mother’s reluctance. As heartbreaking as it is horrifying, The Living and the Dead is a hard pill to swallow and will invade your thoughts for quite some time. It’s virtually a haunted house film, except the ghosts are real, as are the consequences. It’s a haunting gift that unfortunately keeps on giving long after viewing.
2. Fat Girl
“Anaïs is twelve and bears the weight of the world on her shoulders. She watches her older sister, Elena, whom she both loves and hates. Elena is fifteen and devilishly beautiful. Neither more futile, nor more stupid than her younger sister, she cannot understand that she is merely an object of desire. And, as such, she can only be taken — or had. Indeed, this is the subject: a girl’s loss of virginity. And, that summer, it opens a door to tragedy.”
I will start things off by saying Fat Girl has the most disturbing ending to a film that I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure it will ever be topped, to be perfectly honest. It was jaw-dropping in a literal sense, as I just sat there, mouth agape, staring at the screen in disbelief. You have no way to see it coming and are taken completely by surprise. I have only seen it that one time, and am not sure if I’ll ever muster the courage to view it again, even though it’s well-crafted and the performances are top notch.
Fat Girl dives headfirst into desire and loneliness — proving it to be a bad and sometimes tragic combination. It unabashedly tackles the effects a lifetime of bullying and mental abuse can have on someone. It’s about a desperation of unimaginable measures. Anaïs’ desire and obsession for attention from the opposite sex has completely desensitized her, leading her to an unthinkable climax. Without spoiling anything, she finally finds what she’s been longing for, although it comes at an expense that she’ll be paying forever. Was it worth it?
1. The Sound of Insects: Record of a Mummy
“A hunter in a remote and idyllic forest stumbles on a make-shift tent fashioned from sheets of plastic and containing the mummified remains of a corpse. A detailed journal found on site reveals the man committed suicide by self-imposed starvation. Who was this man? Why did he kill himself in such a manner? Inspired by this true event and by the novella ‘Until I Am a Mummy’ by Shimada Masahiko, Insects sensuously evokes the mysterious man’s last days.”
Have you ever felt the desire to experience death without actually dying? Well, you’re in luck. This is far and away the saddest, yet most enlightening film I’ve ever seen. Films are merely journeys that you take with your character(s). This film is no exception, but it’s a different journey than we’re used to. You aren’t just living a day in the life of another man’s shoes, but rather a lifetime — albeit one that’s being cut short. You will join this person in death, and god damn is it a harrowing experience. It is so far from how it is in the movies. There’s no incident, followed by some profound final words — just pain and suffering that seems to go on far longer than it should. It seemed more like a punishment than an escape.
What I find most interesting about this film is simply the fact that it exists. This man chose to suffer for weeks alone in a tent in the woods, documenting every possible thing he was experiencing in a diary. He knew someone would find it when they discovered his body, but he had no way to know what they would choose to do with it. I doubt he expected it to be turned into a powerful documentary, narrating it word-for-word. That diary was his gift to the world. A gift for the morbidly curious. He felt that he had nothing to offer the world anymore, and that he didn’t belong. His death was the only thing that could give him purpose, and it turns out he was right. It gave us an extremely detailed glimpse into what most want to ignore. It’s like a real-life version of the film Martyrs. Even though this tops my list of gut-wrenching films, it also feels very necessary. I’m glad it exists, because his journal could have easily been thrown out, but instead they decided to honor his memory and not simply erase him from the very world he already felt disconnected from. Instead, it forever connected him to it, and in turn, all of us to him.