Nothing Bad Can Happen (2013)

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Director: Katrin Gebbe

Starring: Julius Feldmeier, Sascha Alexander Gersak, Annika Kuhl

Jesus Christ!

It’s rare to find a film which manages to disturb and horrify without ever being exploitative or using cheap shock tactics like you’d see in the August Underground movies but Nothing Bad Can Happen manages to do exactly that. I came away from the film feeling drained and disturbed in a way that I haven’t felt since Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs which should certainly ring alarm bells if you can’t handle upsetting subject matters in your films. Although Nothing Bad Can Happen is undoubtedly a superb piece of filmmaking, it’s something I’d recommend with caution due to explicit sequences involving abuse of all kinds and cruelty to animals.

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The film follows the true events surrounding a young self-proclaimed ‘Jesus freak’ called Tore who happens to have some form of autism which makes him think and act very differently to others. Tore places all of his faith in Jesus Christ and is naively taken in by a truly evil family who take advantage of his absurdly good nature. It’s a fascinating meditation on evil in society and the dangers of religion. Despite being an utterly gruelling watch, Nothing Bad Can Happen never gratuitously relishes in the violence and is always focused on character and delivering a powerful message. The fact that these events are true makes the film all the more relevant and important.

First-time director Katrin Gebbe shows astonishing confidence behind the camera. Despite the ugly subject matter, the images always try to find beauty and light through the bleakness. There’s a hypnotic sense of realism to the whole film which reminded me of Justin Kurzel’s equally uncompromising Snowtown. The acting from the unknown cast is similarly impressive, particularly breakout star Julius Feldmeier in the lead who manages to make Tore an engaging and sympathetic main character. Sascha Alexander Gersak also feels toe-curlingly real as the malevolent patriarch determined to break Tore’s Holy spirit.

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You could easily mistake Nothing Bad Can Happen as being the kind of lost film in Lars Von Trier’s ‘Golden Hearts Trilogy’ which correspondingly follows mentally-challenged protagonists as they battle through life’s brutal hardships. It’s just as tough to watch as seeing Emily Watson getting stoned by feral kids or Bjork dancing desperately through life despite the world crumbling around her. It’ll be just too depressing for some people and it does get harder to watch as the film progresses but the reason I watch films is to be moved and provoked by some sort of emotional response. Nothing Bad Can Happen does this in spade loads.

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Initially appearing to be the ideal father figure, Benno, played by German actor Sascha Alexander Gersak in Nothing Bad Can Happen, shows his dark side as he mocks and violently tests a young boy’s religious fai

This is a haunting piece of work which will bury itself under your skin and stay there long after the credits roll. It’s a torturous watch at times but it carries an important message which is extremely relevant to society today. The pacing is very slow at the beginning but it’s also immersive and character-focused meaning that it’s always easy to engage with. There was not one moment where I was bored or distracted in its 110 minute running time. It’s a heart-breaking watch which will surely shake you to your core. A stunning debut but proceed with caution.

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Megan Is Missing (2011)

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Director: Michael Goi

Stars: Amber Perkins, Rachel Quinn, Dean Waite

Megan isn’t the only thing that’s missing

Every self-respecting weird person who’s looking to get disturbed has heard of Megan Is Missing. The only reason I sought out the film is because I’d read how so many people find it horrendously disturbing. If you hop on to the IMDb message boards (always a good place to find opinions by level-headed people) then you’ll find a lot of posts by self-confessed horror movie addicts saying how they found the last twenty minutes of Megan Is Missing to be the most haunting thing they’ve ever seen in a horror film which is quite a big statement! I’m also one of those people who don’t really find many films disturbing. The Human Centipede 2 didn’t particularly bother me and I managed to watch Salo alone in the dark pretty comfortably (ish) so I’m always on the lookout for films that might actually give me sleepless nights.

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Megan Is Missing is atrocious. Let’s get that out the way first, it is absolutely embarrassingly bad. As soon as it started my eyes widened in terror at the beyond horrendous acting from the two main characters in the film, Megan and Amy. Both of them can’t act for a toffee apple and that’s being kind about them! Megan’s wooden bedpost is probably the best actor in the whole film and steals the show. Although, let’s face it there really isn’t much of a show to steal. It presents itself as a true story, but this is impossible to take seriously thanks to the stilted acting and forced chemistry between Megan and Amy.

As soon as the film starts we’re treated to dialogue from Amy which goes something like, “We’re filming on my expensive new video camera, Daddy loves me.” To which Megan replies, “My Daddy loves me too, slut” and we get a painfully wooden, “Bitch!” Back from Amy. Such Shakespearean dialogue continues throughout the film and it’s probably supposed to sound like natural 14 year-old girl banter, but the actors deliver their lines like their reading them from the cameraman holding up a cardboard sign. It’s just a total cringe-fest and the characters couldn’t get any more stereotypical or two dimensional. We’ve got Megan the confident, popular school bike and Amy the unpopular, angelic prude.

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There is an attempt to build up characters but it just ends up resulting in ridiculous clichés. At one point I even predicted in my head exactly what Megan was going to say as she breaks down awkwardly on camera about her dysfunctional upbringing. We also get treated to a needlessly long monologue from Megan about her first sexual experience which just ends up sounding like dialogue from a porn film. I also liked the director’s idea of a teen house party complete with torch lights and girls randomly jumping up and down going “woo!”

It’s a found footage film so it’s essential for it to have a realistic atmosphere, which it fails at miserably. It does make for unintentionally hilarious viewing though. It’s about a girl talking to a randomer over the Internet and ending up missing (surprise, surprise) but the film is extremely heavy-handed with these themes. It almost feels like a student film at times, especially when they try to create news footage. I actually laughed out loud at one point where they do a re-construction of the kidnapping. I also loved the part where the newsreader teases the next story about a cocker spaniel driving a car through a shop window! I’m not kidding, the filmmakers should’ve made a film based on that idea.

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Basically, the first hour of Megan Is Missing is an hilarious example of how not to make a film. But then the next 20 minutes arrive and everything changes. It’s difficult to talk about the last 20 minutes without giving away big plot twists, but I can say that it did actually disturb me. The acting gets a little more convincing (big stress on ‘little’) and the film becomes relentlessly terrifying. The unintentional funniness disappears and we’re presented with a genuinely chilling atmosphere of horror and a sobering sense of realism. Some people say that it’s like some sort of indulgent fetish thing for the director but I think it’s actually done in a way that’s not too exploitative or gratuitous. It’s actually a well-made bit of harrowing horror.

So, Megan Is Missing is a film of two halves and both halves are horrendous for different reasons. The first three quarters have no redeeming qualities, whereas the last quarter has the power to genuinely shock and unsettle without over-stepping the mark or trying to be nasty for the sake of it. It’s a difficult film to recommend, but if you know what you’re getting in to and are a hardened horror fan then it’s definitely worth one watch. Most of it is total rubbish but in the end it presented some truly frightening ideas which did haunt me and will probably continue to haunt me for some time. So that has got to be worth something, hasn’t it?

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The Conjuring 2 (2016)

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Director: James Wan

Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O Connor, Madison Wolfe

Cor, blimey guvner! A sequel actually worth your sixpence piece

I remember being pretty disappointed when The Conjuring first came out. The Internet was building it up to be one of the scariest films ever made and I was getting really excited to be properly scared. I don’t usually get scared in films, but James Wan’s very own Insidious did manage to conjure up (pardon the pun) some genuinely terrifying imagery so I had every right to expect the same from The Conjuring but the film didn’t scare me at all. It wasn’t until I re-watched it recently that I realised that whilst it isn’t a scary film to me, I can appreciate it for being a very well-made horror film. If you take the hype away from it, there’s a lot to love.

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So when The Conjuring 2 reviews came out and were citing similar hype, I tried to put aside the claims of it being even better than the first film and went in with an open mind, almost expecting it to be a disappointment, but it wasn’t. The Conjuring 2 is one of those very rare sequels (even rarer in the horror genre) which manages to better the first. It still has its problems and I still don’t think it’s scary or that it outdoes Insidious, but it is a fine example of haunted house horror which can stand proudly on its own.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s simply more of the same when the film starts as it’s almost identical to the first film. A seemingly unrelated case opens the film and the title flashes up on the screen along with some jargon about the film being true and this case is yet again the scariest The Warrens’ have ever encountered blah blah blah. It’s basic scare tactics that might work for horror virgins but us aficionados will just be rolling our eyes. To be fair, the opening scene is actually very well directed and gives you some idea of the film’s overall quality.

We’re soon plunged into 1970’s England and we’re given constant reminders of this which is something that irritated me. Maybe it’s because I’m English myself but the stereotypes were often quite overwhelming, although amusing. Every car in the driveway is a Mini Cooper, The Queen often pops up on the telly and everyone has a seriously strong cockney accent. I know that it’s set in London but even so it sounds like most of the actors have moulded their accents on Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. I also found Frances O Connor a little wooden and unconvincing at times as well as a few of the kids.

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Overall the acting is terrific though. I was particularly impressed with Madison Wolfe as Margaret, the main girl, who gave off Linda Blair vibes at times. The role asks a lot of such a young actress but she tackles it head on and it’s pretty extraordinary to watch. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are also as excellent as ever as our favourite paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren. I really liked how the film focused so much on their relationship so that it became the emotional core of the film. Similarly, Wan takes his time to carefully build the characters in England so that we become invested in them and actually care about what’s going to happen to them. It’s such a rarity these days to find a horror film with characters you feel involved with and this is the main aspect which makes The Conjuring 2 so strong and compelling.

The other great thing about the film is its atmosphere. James Wan clearly has a deep love for the horror genre and The Conjuring 2 is a labour of this love. The whole film is deliciously gothic and over-the-top, it’s a horror fan’s dream come true. There are a lot of spooky scenes crammed into the film and whilst they didn’t particularly scare me, you can’t help but appreciate the stylishness and effectiveness of them. James Wan really is a master behind the camera and knows how to create genuine tension. Like the first film, a lot of scenes are filmed skilfully in one fluid take and it often becomes very intense, especially combined with the striking loud score and sound design.

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Even the typical horror clichés like possession and creaky doors are done in such an effective way that you don’t care that you’ve seen it a hundred times before. With a running time of over two hours, I was still left feeling eager for more. The Conjuring 2 creates a gorgeous world of horror and allows you to sink within it. It will leave horror fans consistently grinning from ear to ear. The demon/ghost designs in this one are also much more creative than the first film. The nun character (played by the same lady who acted as the iconic bum in Mulholland Dr) was memorably creepy and a bizarre character known as the crooked man is weirdly delightful, although some might find him a jarringly out of place.

If you’re a fan of the horror genre then I can’t really see any reason for disliking The Conjuring 2, and if you’re not a horror fan then what are you bloody doing watching a horror film? Recent films like The Witch, It Follows and The Babadook may be better but that doesn’t make The Conjuring 2 obsolete. It’s a beautifully crafted piece of supernatural horror which delivers atmosphere and suspense in spades. Some of it does feel a little contrived towards the end but the finale’s so excitingly pulse-pounding and intense that you’re unlikely to care. It makes sure that the audience actually care about the people on screen so it’s never dull for one moment. A third film will definitely be on the cards and if it carries on being as solid as this one then we might be looking at the best supernatural horror franchise since… Well, ever.

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10 Incredibly Depressing Movies That Will Crush Your Soul

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Sometimes you need nothing more than to have a good cry. Unfortunately for me, I seem incapable of doing that (although two films on this list actually made me sob!). It’s not that I’m a hard b*****d or anything (I hope I’m not), in fact I like to think of myself as quite a compassionate and caring human who would mend a fly’s wing if I saw it struggling to fly. There’s something inside me that stops me from releasing my tears. Of course I welled up in Up (get it?) but I’m actually one of the few who didn’t manage to release any tears. The list of films which you’ll find below are amongst the most soul destroying films I’ve seen. Please remember that at the tender age of 19, I still have yet to see some of the most depressing films such as: Christiane F, Leaving Las Vegas, Dear Zachary and any Ingmar Bergman film, but be assured that all of these are on my list of films to see!

But without further ado, let us delve into some of the most powerful and moving experiences that film has to offer. As I mentioned before, even I managed to sob in at least two of these films, so if you don’t get choked up in any of these then you must be some sort of robot like ChatBot.

10. The Elephant Man

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David Lynch is at his best when he’s letting his unconscious thoughts run riot in my opinion. However, I understand that a lot of the more ‘normal’ members of the public prefer something that is more straight forward and easy to understand, so maybe you should check out The Elephant Man. It’s one of Lynch’s most acclaimed works and it’s easy to see why. It’s a massive step away from the ultra surrealistic and horrifying world of Eraserhead, and rightly so. It’s the true story of Victorian circus-freak, Joseph Merrick. A hideously deformed human being with a hidden heart of gold. John Hurt plays Merrick superbly and Anthony Hopkins is just as remarkable in his turn as the doctor who takes him in.

It would take the hardest of hearts not to be moved by this story. It’s the perfect film which illustrates the famous saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. No one ever gave Merrick even the chance to speak, yet when he does he’s one of the most humbling people you’ll ever witness. He’s overwhelmed with thanks at even the smallest piece of kindness from someone and it’s both delightful and heart-breaking to see. It’s the darker elements of the film that I find the most saddening though. I can barely watch the scene where Pauline Quirke and her gang of bullies break into Merrick’s room and torment him, or the famous train station scene, or the devastating ending where Merrick passes away by simply wanting to sleep like a ‘normal’ person. It’s a beautiful film sure to move the hardest of hearts.

9. 12 Years a Slave

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12 Years is definitely the most recent film on my list, but by no means the least deserving. I was pretty darn shocked to see such explicit misery caught on a mainstream film. I’m used to seeing depressing stuff, but this is normally in foreign independent films, not Oscar nominees! 12 Years a Slave deserved every one of its nominations though, and should’ve won far more than it did. It’s another terrible true story of Solomon Northup, a free man in the slave times who is captured and taken into slavery for twelve dreadful years.

In these years we and Solomon witness some of the most horrendous acts in history. The treatment of Lupita Nyong’o is particularly hard to watch as she’s raped and whipped to an inch of her life at the hand of Michael Fassbender’s sadistic plantation owner, Edwin Epps. 12 Years a Slave is quite simply a masterpiece. It’s superbly directed by Steve McQueen and features stellar performances across the board. The film really makes the viewer feel like they’re experiencing the hardship of slavery, which makes me wonder why it was such a mainstream hit. I’m glad it was though because it’s such a powerful and important film with an ending that almost moved me to tears.

8. Irreversible

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The inclusion of Gaspar Noe’s notorious rape-revenge shocker should elicit no surprise from readers who know their stuff about the disturbing side of cinema. Irreversible is one of the most unpleasant experiences you can have whilst watching a film, yet it remains as one of my favourites. The film is an extraordinary achievement and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The hallucinatory camera work is mesmerising to watch as every scene is done in one continuous shot. A method Gaspar would later use to even more mind-blowing effect in Enter the Void.

Irreversible is the tale of a couple in love (Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci, real-life partners) who attend a party, only for Monica to be brutally raped and left for dead in an underpass, leaving Vincent hell-bent on revenge. What makes the film strange though is its backward structure. The film begins with the tragic ending and ends with the hopeful beginning and a title card saying ‘Time destroys everything’ which suggests that our lives all lead up to one horrifying moment. If that isn’t depressing enough for you then perhaps seeing a man’s face destroyed by a fire extinguisher and the most brutal rape scene in cinema history (it’s 10 minutes long and the camera doesn’t move an inch) will have you thanking the Lord for your joyous life… That is until, time destroys it of course.

7. Breaking the Waves

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A list of crushing films wouldn’t be complete without a bit of Lars Von Trier. Breaking the Waves is often considered his best film and I wouldn’t necessarily argue with that. Whilst my personal favourite Lars film is still yet to come (patience, my dears) Breaking the Waves definitely comes a close second for me as his best film. It follows Emily Watson on electrifying form, in her film debut (Oscar-nominated. Should’ve won.) as a simple, God-fearing Scottish woman who falls madly in love with Stellan Skarsgard’s oil-rig worker, Jan. That is until he gets bashed on the head, becomes paralysed and convinces Bess to prostitute herself.

It’s a very intense film to watch because Bess’ descent into degradation feels so natural. It’s painful because Bess is such a sweet woman and some truly awful things happen to her. The way Lars captures the love between Bess and Jan is truly inspired. It feels so natural and pure, making it all the more hurtful to watch. The film packs an incredible emotional punch with an ending that may perplex some people, but I found it quite beautiful. Breaking the Waves is no easy watch and I came very close to breaking my waves i.e. Crying.

6. Lilya 4-Ever

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Lukas Moodysson was known as the masterful Swedish filmmaker who was the king of feel-good without it feeling too corny. His second feature, Together, was a wonderful comedic drama which celebrated the Hippy movement in 70’s Sweden. That’s why it was such a shock to see him make something as unbearably devastating as Lilya 4-Ever. It’s a film set in a poverty-stricken part of Russia and follows 16 year-old Lilya (played shockingly well by the young Oksana Akinshina) whose dreams of starting a new life in America are crushed when her mother callously abandons her and leaves her to the mercy of the cruel real world.

Lilya 4-Ever feels painfully realistic with its documentary-style directing and terrific acting. It’s another film that almost moved me to tears as you feel completely immersed in Lilya’s world. What makes it worse is that she’s such a lovable character who tries to make the best out of really crap situations. Things escalate from bad to worse to the very worst. I don’t want to spoil the experience by saying what happens, but needless to say that Lilya gets mixed up in some pretty dark things. What makes the film painfully sad is that Lilya isn’t the only one to have this story. Children are subjected to vile abuse everyday and Lilya 4-Ever is a powerful reminder of this.

5. The Seventh Continent

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Michael Haneke is the king of portraying alienation. All of his films feature very long takes and aren’t afraid of showing the darker side of cinema. His most famous film is probably Funny Games which is a powerful comment on movie violence and how far you can push the boundaries. However, people seem very unfamiliar with Haneke’s debut film, The Seventh Continent. It follows an everyday family doing everyday things until it becomes clear that they’re planning something.

That’s all I’m going to say on the plot and I’d recommend not reading anything about this film. I stupidly found out the revelation before I watched it, although I’m sure it was no less harrowing to watch. The Seventh Continent will probably bore most viewers for the first hour or so, but I’d urge you to stick with it. The final 45 minutes are some of the most disturbing images I’ve ever had the displeasure of viewing. It’s an incredibly powerful and moving film and one which you’ll probably never forget.

4. Martyrs

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Oh, Martyrs… My wonderful, wonderful Martyrs! In my opinionated opinion, Pascal Laugier’s, Martyrs is not only one of the best modern horror movies ever made, but one of the best movies ever! My love for Martyrs is obvious for those who love foreign horror as much as I do, but for those who aren’t aware of this masterpiece, to outline the story would be to completely crush its genius. It basically follows a girl who broke free from a strange torture chamber and hunts down her captors. What follows is an emotional mass of unpredictability that will play on your knowledge of the horror genre in a similar (albeit, less zany) way to The Cabin in the Woods.

But Martyrs is so much more than a horror movie. Martyrs kicks an insane emotional punch and the final half hour is notoriously hard to watch and will probably be the decider in whether you like it or not. For me, the final scenes are haunting, powerful and perfect. Some call it exploitative torture-porn, but I’d have to disagree. Torture-porn is violence for the sake of violence. Martyrs is much more profound than this, and I don’t think torture-porn is supposed to make you well up quite like Martyrs does. It’s a masterpiece of a movie, and another one which almost makes me cry every time I see it.

3. Amour

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Now we arrive at one of the two films on this list to actually make me cry. Michael Haneke rears his beautiful old head again and brings two more old heads with him! Amour is his latest film and is also probably one of his best. It’s the simple tale, that we’ll all probably have to go through at some point, of watching the one that you love die. I like to think that I’ll be lucky enough to find someone to grow old with and Amour showcases this, but focuses solely on the most Earth-shattering latter years leading to death. Emmanuelle Riva (on Oscar-nominated form, should’ve won) is astonishing as Ann, the woman whose health is slowly deteriorating in front of the very eyes of the man who loves her the most.

What makes Amour stand out against Hollywood tear-jerkers (e.g. My Sisters Keeper) is that it remains completely unsentimental and detached. Haneke isn’t trying to manipulate his audience in any way, he’s just showing us what happens when we get old and it’s incredibly moving to watch. The scene that actually made me cry was towards the end when Ann (now unable to move or speak) refuses to eat because she wants to die, and Georges gets frustrated with her because he doesn’t want her to go and hits her. It’s just utterly devastating to watch and the entire film is full of this intense power that doesn’t let up until it’s over. There’s no remarkable story or anything, it’s just the story of life, and it’s a painfully haunting one.

2. Requiem for a Dream

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Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream remains in my top 10 films of all time. It often appears at the top of lists for depressing films and it’s not hard to see why. The film is basically two stories. One follows Ellen Burstyn (Oscar-nominated, should’ve won) as an elderly woman who’s looking forward to appearing on television. However, she’s determined to fit into her red dress so takes some diet pills, only to become addicted with devastating results. The other story follows her grandson, Jared Leto who has a beautiful girlfriend, Jennifer Connelly and loyal friend, Marlon Wayans. They all have a zest for life and full of dreams, but unfortunately become uncontrollably addicted to heroin, again with devastating results.

There are no happy endings here folks. Whilst the film is rated ‘18’ for its explicit sex and violence, I think it should be shown to every 14 year-old across the world, for this is far more powerful than any PSHCE lesson. It’s a highly effective and devastating watch that nearly omits tears from me every time I see it. Aronofsky’s directing is simply magnificent. It’s incredibly disorientating and intense to watch. The final half hour is almost unbearably intense to watch and will leave you completely and utterly drained of life. The way things get worse and worse are as unnerving as Eileen sitting on the wall crying. Requiem for a Dream is a masterpiece and one of the true greats of depressing movies.

1. Dancer in the Dark

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Literally every one of Lars Von Trier’s films has a heavily bleak element to it. His most hopeful films feature the end of the world and a woman dangerously addicted to sex (no joke). Dancer in the Dark however, takes the absolute biscuit as the most depressing film, not just that Lars has ever done, but I have ever seen. It’s the last instalment of his Golden Hearts trilogy (it followed the previously mentioned Breaking the Waves) and my personal favourite film of his. Dancer in the Dark actually made me sob out loud. When it was over I went straight to bed and couldn’t stop thinking about it. It haunted me for weeks and still haunts me to this day. It’s probably the most heart-breaking and powerful film I have ever seen.

Dancer in the Dark follows Icelandic pop God, Bjork (on electrifying form) in her first and only acting role (it’s been said that Lars and Bjork despised each other on set and Bjork was unfortunately put off acting for life) as a simple-minded Czech immigrant who’s slowly going blind. She does all her best to save up all the little money she has to pay for her son’s eye operation to prevent him from going blind too. Without spoiling too much, Bjork’s life goes from bad to unbearable and the only way she can escape her reality is to sing and pretend that life is a jolly 60’s Hollywood musical. The final moments in Dancer in the Dark are almost too painful to watch. Lars pulls no punches on the misery and the ending has got to be the saddest of all time. It’s the cinematic equivalent of an iron-fisted sucker punch to the gut, and it’s also a masterpiece.

So we’ve finally made it through these soul-crushing tear-jerker’s. Don’t you feel happier about your life now? Whenever you’re down, just thank God that you’re not having a life like John Merrick, Solomon Northup, Alex, Bess McNeil, Lilya, Anna, Georg, Lucie, Anna, Georges, Anne, Harry, Marion, Tyrone, Sara or Selma. That is of course unless you are a deformed, suicidal, drug-addicted, 80 year-old slave prostitute. Then you’re pretty much done for. Please let me know if you think I should’ve included anything else and thanks for reading!

Regrettable omissions: Grave of the Fireflies, Schindler’s List