When it comes to making a lasting impression, there's no movie that stays with you longer than one that really gets under your skin.
There are jump-scares and slashers and standard horror tactics... and then there're those movies that somehow burrow deep into your brain and leave something there. Something dark... something disturbing.
Moviepilot's writers have contributed their own personal take on the most disturbing movie they've ever seen and we'd love it if you'd added yours in the comments!
It's hard to be objective about what's 'disturbing' and there's no real reason why a horror fan should try. As a kid, I found the vampire panther woman from Tales From the Cryptkeeper or Der Kindestod from Buffy terrifying in a much more lasting way than almost any mind-bending gorefest since.
Almost. Martyrs is the one movie I've ever had to pause to take a deep breath before soldiering on in. The French-Canadian work of genius is pacy and bloody enough for the average splat-fan, yet still cerebrally shocking enough to deliver a profound emotional gut punch. In the bitter end, what is most disturbing is not the blood, the torture or the violence - of which there is plenty - but despair. Approach carefully.
- Jancy Richardson
The Act of Killing
I've crawled through the emotional broken glass of almost every hard hitting documentary you can think of, but nothing has keep my awake at night musing about the nature of evil like the surrealist bloodbath that is The Act of Killing.
A film within a film, The Act of Killing follows members of Indonesian death squads who tortured and murdered over a million Chinese immigrants and suspected communists. Not only do the perpetrators tell they harrowing stories of how they killed their victims through beaming grins, they are also encouraged to act out the scenes in a bizarre self-directed movie which is as grotesque as it is ludicrous.
The men who bloodied their hands in the mass genocide are glorified by their peers through terror and respect and have never faced any consequences for the atrocities they committed, but the most haunting thing is how human, and even sometimes, likable, they can be.
The Act of Killing is meditation on how nobody is born evil, and it is the circumstances they are dragged up in that allows slaughtering people to become a cold, monotonous routine. Even an eccentric joker with a quirky dye job is capable of strangling the life out of thousands of people with a wire ligature, and that is the most chilling thing of them all.
- Karly Rayner
Ichi The Killer
I was going to put 1979's The Amityville Horror as the most disturbing movie my eyes have ever been privy to, mainly because it was the very first horror movie I'd ever seen (way too young as ever!). But Takashi Miike's seminal shocker Ichi The Killer was a welcomed eye opener for me, as it broke boundaries. Snapping them over a muscular knee, and then just running with said boundaries, flailing like a ragdoll.
From the opening sequence, where we're introduced to the titular protagonist masturbating outside a prostitute's window, to the scene where Ichi goes to town on a bunch of Yakuza, my teenage mind had never seen anything quite like it. I was shocked, disgusted, terrified and out right enthralled. This is true spectacle cinema.
- Marlon McDonald
The first time I ever remember being disturbed by a movie was when I was 7 or 8 years old. I was sleeping at a friend's house and her elder brother, who was around 16, was babysitting us. He sent us to bed while he and his friends watched IT on the television. We crept down and watched the movie through the banisters and the scene when Pennywise becomes the moon, and the hand through the photo album?! As young kids we were so scared we fell asleep holding each other so tight because we thought he would get us when we started to dream!
- Sam Warrington
IT, the first horror film I ever watched. I was probably around 9 and my so-called best friend locked me in her bedroom and MADE me watch it, I have never watched IT since... still traumatized. In more recent times, Sinister creeped me out like there was no tomorrow.
- Olivia Van der Will
The most disturbing movie I've ever seen would have to be Funny Games, directed by the Austrian director Michael Haneke. It's the story of a couple of young and seemingly care-free dudes who senselessly decide to hold hostage and torture a well-off family (mother, father, and young son) at their vacation home on an idyllic lake in Austria. It's insanely brutal and features a relentless exposé of psychological (and physical) violence that I have never seen the like of from any other director. Haneke expertly and mercilessly delves into the depth of human psychological depravity in a way that left me both scarred, distraught, and in awe of his genius all at the same time. Basically anything by Haneke is exceptionally disturbing; The Piano Teacher is another one of his films that's a close runner up.
- Alexandra Ekstein-Kon
If it's difficult for me to feel disturbed by movies. If I start to get a twinge of discomfort, my brain usually kicks in to remind me it's just a film. Documentaries are a different story however, as they can often highlight real-world repercussions and suffering. Blackfish is perhaps the most recent documentary to really disturb me. The harrowing exploration of the treatment of orcas behind the scenes of SeaWorld's gaudy whale shows illustrates just how indefensible such an industry really is. Perhaps the most heartbreaking moment among many is a scene in which a mother orca, who has been recently separated from her calf by SeaWorld bosses, calls out to her young - creating sounds never heard before. I wouldn't really class myself as an ardent animal lover, but it certainly brought an angry, indignant, tear to my eye.
- Mark Newton
A Clockwork Orange
While this film may pale in comparison to the rest of the deranged movies on this list in terms of straight up graphic content, no other movie has left me with a worse taste in my mouth. Sure, Alex and his Droogs’ indulgence in the old ultraviolence is visually shocking, but it’s disturbing because of its pure senselessness. Kubrick’s masterpiece smothers the audience in its overbearing atmosphere of unsettling menace, and to be honest I couldn’t wait for the credits to come.
- Rob Harris
I was told to watch the documentary Dear Zachary on the condition that I don't google the film any further than IMDB page, I obliged and watched the film and by the end of the 95 minutes I was truly an empty shell of a human being. The 2008 documentary was made by Kurt Kuenne about his friend Andrew Bagby, who was killed by his ex-girlfriend Shirley Turner.
Kuenne decided to make the documentary after Turner revealed that she was pregnant with Bagby's baby, (a baby boy named Zachary) to create a sort of cinematic scrapbook for him about the father he would never know. The film was intended to be a private film for Zachary and family and friends of Andrew Bagby, but as events unfolded during the filming it soon turned into so much more.
This is not a film to watch if you are feeling vulnerable or depressed, it will absolutely disturb and destroy you.
- Allanah Faherty