That is, if you can even make it through them the first time (for some, I couldn’t.)
Some rules before I start listing them off: these had to be films I actually saw. That rules out most Japanese gore-porn titles. Why? Because, while I’m sure I’ll never want to see them again, they just have no inherent cultural value to pique my interest in the first place. You cannot tell me that ‘Men Behind the Sun’ has any redeeming value. Which is not to say I’d ever censor it if when I run the world, but just that I’d never personally choose to watch something of that nature. Second, they had to be films that – true to the title – I’ve never watched again. In the interest of honesty and all.
It turns out that some of these are terrific films, films I would recommend to everyone if I thought anyone had the stomach for them. But, on a good conscience, it’s just difficult to suggest something that might make someone hate you for quite a while, so I’m shaping this in the mold of a dare instead of a recommendation.
See the list after the jump.
1. Mysterious Skin (2004)
Gregg Araki’s 2004 film features, and I have no reservations saying this, the best performance by an actor that I have ever witnessed. The actor? Joseph Gordon-Levitt, back when he was still trying to distinguish his adult acting career from his younger role on TV’s “3rd Rock from the Sun.”
‘Skin’ follows two young adults (Gordon-Levitt and the almost equally-fantastic Brady Corbet) living in distant towns and trying to cope with past incidents of sexual abuse at the hands of their pee-wee baseball coach. Pretty much all the films on this list earned an NC-17 rating, and nobody will ever confuse this one as gun-shy. It’s difficult enough ascertaining, through extremely graphic dialogue, what happened in the past. But even more difficult is seeing how badly the abuse screwed up the boys’ lives going forward: Neil (Gordon-Levitt) becomes a soulless prostitute and Brian (Corbet) convinces himself that he was abducted by aliens the night he was abused and clings desperately to that obsessive fantasy.
It really is, overall, an incredible film. The acting is unrivaled. Ebert pretty much agrees with me. It’s just…good luck watching it. I ended up giving it a shot because one of my freshman year film studies classes labeled it as one of the “most dangerous films ever made” (whatever that means), and I honestly could not make it through in one sitting. It was far too painful. It’s really more of an experience than a film, and you’ve got to have a kevlar vest over your soul to experience it without pause, I think. The ending still haunts me.
2. Happiness (1998)
Before there was ‘Skin’, there was Todd Solondz’ ‘Happiness’, another so-called “dangerous” film offered as bait by the freshman year course. Whereas ‘Skin’ can be uplifting and even comical in parts, it seems that moments of relief are few and far between in Solondz’ film. It’s a rough watch.
‘Happiness’ more or less follows the intersecting lives of a bunch of people who, in the tradition of film titles that think they’re clever and ironic, are not at all happy. It’s fairly familiar face-laden, so you’ll recognize a lot of actors throughout. Kind of hard to break down given the multiple stories, but it’s essentially the story of the Jordans and the Maplewoods I guess. Joy Jordan (Jane Adams of HBO’s “Hung”) has recently bailed on a relationship with co-worker Andy Kornbluth (Jon Lovitz) and is pretty much the most pathetic, hopeless individuals (and folk singer!) in the history of the world. Her parents are divorcing because they are no longer happy together and the other Jordan sisters are entirely self-absorbed and seem happy in comparison but only because they turn a blind eye to their own relationships. Helen Jordan (Laura Flynn Boyle, who hasn’t been relevant since 1998 actually) is a successful novelist who only has an empty apartment to show for her work, leading to a painfully-awkward phone sex relationship with Allen (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who spends every night randomly dialing women in the phone book and asking them lewd questions while masturbating, using his natural glue to stick postcards to the wall when he’s finished (even though everyone knows you never finish!)
On the other side is the Maplewood family, and while the other storylines are painful, this one is downright toxic and of course the source of all the movie’s controversy and the majority of its NC-17 rating. Mona Jordan is married to Bill Maplewood (Dylan Baker), who is on the surface a respected psychiatrist, but at the core is a sexual predator. Perhaps one of the most uncomfortable scenes I have ever sat through occurs about halfway into the film, when Bill’s son invites a friend over for a sleepover and Bill proceeds to drug everyone’s sundaes. The son’s friend refuses the sundae, saying he doesn’t like chocolate, so Bill desperately attempts to find something he does like and ends up making him a (drugged) tuna salad sandwich. We have to watch for like five minutes as the child obliviously continues playing a videogame, sandwich in front of him, wondering whether or not he’ll eat it. After five minutes of encouragement from Bill, he does. And humanity is all downhill from there. Like ‘Skin’, it’s not that it’s explicit in its imagery, but rather its tension and powers of suggestion. And also like ‘Skin’, we get a tremendous performance that society doesn’t want you to know about – Baker’s role as Bill. I can’t believe his agent let him sign off on the part, but it must have been alright in the end because Baker is pretty much in everything now. Even playing one of the more heinous characters in modern cinema, he still manages to make the character human, a victim of impulse.
So, yeah, a lot of unhappy people. Some people that you struggle to define as people in the first place (more like monsters.) And way too much ejaculate (a-jacko-let?!), which in the spirit of the film plays both painfully and hilariously into the ending.
3. Funny Games (1997, Austria)
Away from the sexual predator theme, we now are graced with the directorial presence of Austria’s Michael Haneke. It’s a well-known fact, of course, that people from Austria are strange and sadistic. So it’s no surprise that this follows suit.
A disclaimer up front: Haneke went and re-made (literally shot-for-shot) an American remake of this film a few years back (starring the aforementioned Brady Corbet actually.) It wasn’t nearly as effective. Something about watching the 1997 original with subtitles was far more disturbing. The film basically follows a family of three (four if you include the dog) as they head out on a weekend vacation on a reclusive lake. Their vacation, however, is interrupted by two khaki-clad strangers who look like perfectly polite people on the outside but only want to torment the family, forcing them into playing a series of “games” with the up-front bet that none of them will make it through the night.
Sounds like a standard American slasher, and that’s the point. Haneke aims to dissect the stereotypical modern horror film, breaking the fourth wall often to call into question the viewer’s own sadism and playing around with conventions of time and alternate endings. It’s certainly a confusing watch for the average viewer, as most probably won’t understand Haneke’s deconstructive aim. But it’s also incredibly disturbing. Not because it’s violent…it’s really not that violent. It’s disturbing because Haneke insists on endless takes (some approaching seven minutes stationary) where most action is happening just off screen and we’re just left to wonder what has happened via audio cues. It’s also unsettling that the killers never really seem to have a motive, yet they’re so committed to their cruelty. We know what’s probably going to happen, and there’s always a dreadful buildup to those moments. The fact that we have to decipher this malice through subtitles just makes the killers and the scenario all the more alien and beyond our understanding.
I say you’ll never want to watch this again because Haneke quite literally tortures the viewer for the duration. When that’s an explicit purpose for a filmmaker, you can bet it’s going to land on a list like this.
4. Anti-Christ (2009)
I guess my opening disclaimer was a bit hypocritical. I really can’t recommend Lars von Trier’s controversial 2009 film on any level. Honestly, I hated it. But that’s not why I’ll never watch it again.
I also can’t really provide a synopsis, because truthfully I have no idea what the hell this film was about. Usually, I’m good at figuring these things out. This one…it completely eludes me. A couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) struggle over the death of their infant son and head out on a weekend retreat in a wilderness cabin. From there, seriously, I can’t even begin to explain. Everything about this movie is nuts: the score, the visuals, the fact that it got nominated for a Junkie for a scene where a female snips off her clitoris and a male ejaculates blood. Somehow, it’s considered an art film despite that. Weird.
You won’t watch this again because beyond making no sense, it’s just discordant. It’s a grating experience.
5. Gummo (1997)
‘Gummo’ is just goddamn gross. It’s, quite literally, a white-trash nightmare. For some reason, this movie was on all the damn time when I was about 17 or 18. Apparently because people thought director Harmony Korine was prodigal or something. I don’t know. He’s not.
Again, it would really be pointless to describe the plot of this film, as the film as pretty much designed to make no sense. It’s in the vein of a post-apocalyptic title, where a tornado destroys the small Midwestern town of Xenia, Ohio and its residents are left to fend for themselves free of all social bonds. What ensues is a lot of Chloe Sevigny art-film shit (read: boobies, working her way up to the beej a few films later.) And this scene, which is beyond description (and yes, it’s just as out-of-context as a YT clip of a film you’ve never seen as it is in the film itself.)
‘Gummo’ strives to show us the worst in white-trash, a fictional ‘Pink Flamingoes’ of sort. It’s pretty disgusting, not in any sense gory, just disgusting in the sense that you know people probably live like this somewhere and – like the characters in the film – are just acclimated to that environment.
So there you go, five films you’ll never want to see again, if you even seen them once. I really don’t recommend the last two and I’m on the fence about the third, but the first two – though existentially-abrasive – are actually good films. If you should choose to brave them, though, good luck with that.