ByMichelle Ko, writer at
Loves reading, writing, and everything film. Will be posting about lesser-known movies with a focus on indie production and Asian cinema.
Michelle Ko

The teacher was at a loss for words, trying to explain why even numbers are only those divisible by two. "What's wrong with three — the odd number?" one of the kids asked pointedly.

"Well," the teacher mused, "even numbers are complete, they are nice and lovely. We all like pretty things, don't we?"

It was an innocent, careless answer, but sometimes when I watch a darkly gorgeous movie that challenges all conventions, my memories hark back to the lazy afternoons in elementary math class, when things were simpler and beauty was just, good.

And then there are these five films that blur the line completely, making you cringe at the insanity that perpetuates our obsession with beauty and question whether it is our own vileness that necessitates it.

5. Neon Demon (2016)

The fast track to fame and beauty, and the fall from grace.

The real demon in one of the most controversial movies at the Cannes Film Festival this year is multifold — it is the absurdity of the fashion industry, ridiculous standards of femininity and subjugation, and of course, the elusive and encompassing nature of beauty itself. When the new model in town (Elle Fanning) becomes the quickest rising star, all these factors will come into play to craft a disaster so complete it can only be beautiful. If beauty, or our pursuit for it, is dangerous, then no better movie should open this post than Neon Demon.

Favorite scene: The photo shoot near the end. Almost like an over-the-top moment in America's Next Top Model, only a little more dramatic and certainly more blood-thirsty.

4. Suspiria (1977)

Recalls nightmares of conformity set in a strict academy with inexplicable rules.

This '70s Italian horror classic is anything but old and boring; its use of primary colors, impressionistic sets and the occasional shocks of blood and gore will wow you with how edgy our parents’ decade could be. Although there is nothing too unexpected about the plot, the surreal setting and oppressive atmosphere will more than suffice for a visually stunning viewing quite unmatched by any modern horror.

Favorite scene: Maggots raining from the ceiling! Great shock factor with those trusty old wigglies that never fail to disgust in a fundamental way.

3. High-Rise (2015)

Dramatizes our downfall when the fragile line that balances sanity and inequity breaks.

With a setup not unlike that of Snowpiercer, High-Rise opens with a hierarchical, tense and slightly demented social system all packed into a single skyscraper. It is when a crisis erupts that the controlled calm of this symbol of modernity gives way to a dazzling circus of crazy, random happenings and the ultimate breakdown of order. Only, this transpires in a highly aesthetic, almost Victorian gothic kind of way — and Tom Hiddleston is as alluring as ever.

Favorite scene: A chaotic and decadent party takes over the high rise following the second power outage, and we witness as law and order crumbles in a way that's almost as mesmerizing as witnessing its construction.

2. Tale Of Tales (2015)

Reminds us how every fairy-dusted story has a more sinister core.

True to its inspiration of 17th century fairytales, Tale of Tales relates the everyday occurrences of troll kidnappings and the eating of the sea monster heart for fertility, with the casual ease of Medieval imagination. It will perhaps be more constructive to stop dwelling on what a fascinating yet inherently violent story it is and what it all really means, and simply accept that this was how things were in the mysterious olden days. Check out Salma Hayek in the trailer below.

Favorite scene: The king's new pet comes out from under his bed — one of the most WTF film moments in film from the last two years!

1. The Treacherous (2015)

Explores the consequences of leaving the desires of one powerful man unchecked.

Take one of the most brutal emperors in Korean history, blow up his violently sensual pleasures, and layer in some complex characters painted in scenes at once breathtakingly graphic — and you get The Treacherous. This is not a movie for the weak of heart nor one of intensely righteous morals, as The Treacherous brings us back to a time of chaos and confusion. Although the plot leaves many of the deeper motives of intriguing characters hanging, it more than makes up for it by exploring the darkness of the human mind in extravagant beauty, around which perhaps our lives always had and always will revolve.

Favorite scene: The sword dance — exotic, intense and simply gorgeous.

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What's your recommendation for a beautifully disturbing movie? Let me know with a comment below.


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