Weekend Roundtable: Movies that Make You Physically Uncomfortable

This week’s Roundtable topic comes from Drew. It’s a complicated one, so let us explain. Movies that make you physically uncomfortable aren’t necessarily bad movies, though some of them may be. OK, maybe most of them are. Others may actually be good, though. Or at least artistically worthy on some level. But, for whatever reason, they provoke a strong physical reaction that puts a knot in your stomach and makes you squirm in your seat. Does that make sense? If not, then give our choices a read and see if that clears it up any.

Special guest blogger Mrs. Z is also back again this week to provide a female perspective.

Below are our picks. Since Drew chose the topic, we’ll let him lead the way.

Drew Taylor

  1. Antichrist‘ – Lars von Trier’s ‘Antichrist’ was reviled by critics and audiences when it premiered at Cannes in 2009. Sometimes, you see a movie with that sort of reputation and can be both turned off and creeped out for different reasons altogether. Many people were actively put off by what unfolded on screen. They cringed, cried foul, and generally were made sick to their stomachs by the film’s opening penetration shots (not performed, incidentally, by the stars Willem Dafoe or Charlotte Gainsbourg) and, later, by a lot of blood-spattered genital mutilation. In my screening of hardened New York City critics, the biggest gasp came when Gainsbourg, having been driven mad by a devious cabin-in-the-woods following the death of her child, masturbates Dafoe’s erect-but-mangled penis, causing a fountain of blood to spray from its tip.Yes, this is admittedly gross; I’m not going to try and say that it’s not. But at a certain point, the movie stops being a psychosexual exploration of two people grieving (like Nicolas Roeg’s masterful ‘Don’t Look Now’) and starts to be just a campy, unmoving, son-of-‘I Spit On Your Grave’ exploitation flick. Personally, what really grossed me out and made me want to go home immediately to take a shower, pausing only to excavate the invisible bugs that had crawled under my skin, was the movie’s underlying misogyny. This is made abundantly clear when, having defeated his evil spouse, Dafoe is joined by the spirits of dead women everywhere. Many of them (we assume) went crazy and tried to chop their respective husbands’ penises off with a hatchet. After the movie, von Trier joined the audience via Skype, since he won’t come to America. When asked about the batshit craziness of Gainsbourg’s character, he coolly replied, “If you think she’s crazy, you should have seen my mother.” In that one instant, he explained so much.

Dick Ward

  1. Jesus Camp‘ – I racked my brain on this one trying to think of a non-documentary film that made me feel the way that ‘Jesus Camp’ did, but I just couldn’t. Horror flicks scare me and sad movies make me cry, but at the end of the day I know they’re fake. So I don’t really get squeamish about them. But ‘Jesus Camp’ – yikes. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a documentary about a particularly radical evangelical Christian bible camp. At the camp, kids learn that that they need to “take back America for Christ” and be a part of an “army of God.” The camp leader demonizes Harry Potter for being a witch, and fills young children with her political views. It may not sound like much, but it’s a very hard film to watch, unless you’re on that side of the religious and political spectrum. I don’t want to start a religious or political debate here, but seeing incredibly young children indoctrinated in this way is terrifying to me.

David Krauss

  1. The Informers‘ – A lot of people love them, but any film adaptation of a Bret Easton Ellis novel makes me cringe. And the ones about the wasted, narcissistic youth of L.A. have made me feel so dirty, I had to resist the urge to shower afterwards. I didn’t think any film could be more unpleasant than ‘Less Than Zero,’ but then came ‘The Informers,’ one of the author’s earliest works and probably the least deserving of a motion picture treatment. Drugs, sex, booze, and kinky stuff galore infuse this rambling tale of lost souls who roam from party to party indulging their hungry libidos and insatiable appetite for narcotics. Even the parents of these parasites have no redeeming qualities. Toss in some awful performances by Billy Bob Thornton, Winona Ryder and Mickey Rourke, and some awkward attempts at comedy that fall totally flat. Then you’ve got one of scummiest pictures to hit the screen in ages. Amber Heard walking around half-naked for most of the movie kept my eyes open, but just barely.

Josh Zyber

  1. Dancer in the Dark‘ – At the risk of turning this article into a referendum against Lars von Trier, I really can think of very few movies that make me coil up into a tightly-bound ball of rage the way that the director’s alleged musical ‘Dancer in the Dark’ does. In this case, my problem with the film isn’t just the tragedy and abuse that the main character (admittedly, played surprisingly well by odd-duck pop star Björk) suffers throughout the story – and believe me, suffer she does, at the hands of every other character she encounters. No, what really makes my stomach sink is the fact that all of this tragedy is brought about entirely by the escalating series of bad decisions that the character herself makes. At every single point in the story, she does precisely the wrong thing. At a time when she could easily extricate herself from her predicaments simply by telling the truth and explaining what happened, she decides to clam up. Even though she faces certain execution, she refuses to do anything to help herself. And for what purpose? What is the point of all this? Essentially, there is no point, except for von Trier to get his rocks off by making another woman suffer on camera. Even if this film offers up less graphic physical torment than some of his others (like, say, ‘Antichrist’), it still amply demonstrates that the director’s raging misogyny is far, far out of control. As I watched it, I found myself barely able to hold back from screaming at the screen. Watching this movie gave me an ulcer.

Mrs. Z

  1. The Baby of Mâcon‘ – More than a decade ago, the Museum of Fine Arts here in Boston held a retrospective of art house darling Peter Greenaway’s films. The highlight of the series was a screening of the director’s controversial and rarely shown ‘The Baby of Mâcon,’ which was attended by Greenaway himself. While not a crazed fan like my husband and seemingly everyone else in attendance, I had an appreciation for some of Greenaway’s previous work including ‘The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover’ and ‘Prospero’s Books.’ So I had at least a vague understanding of what I was about to see. And I’ll admit I was intrigued by the opportunity to see something considered so taboo that it was effectively banned in the U.S. The film makes bold statements about celebrity, religion, corruption, and the ever increasing public appetite for voyeurism. It confronts the audience with all manner of offensive imagery including a very graphic goring and the dismemberment of a child. But of all the horrors this film offers up, it is the gang rape scene that pushed me over the edge. It’s not so much graphic as it is sickening and misogynistic. I know some people argue that the point of great art is to provoke a strong reaction. Perhaps that’s true, but I found this film so vile that I truly wish I had never seen it.

Now it’s your turn. What movies have made you physically uncomfortable?


  1. coologuy1957

    I keep getting this message for some reason: “Hmmm, your comment seems a bit spammy. We’re not real big on spam around here.”

    • coologuy1957

      I completely agree about Antichrist. Its one of those movies I wish I could unsee.

      I felt this way with Saw III specifically. All the Saw movies have their moments, but Saw III was almost all like that and I turned away and squirmed during most of the movie. I guess all of the torture-pr0n movies are made to do that in general. Thats why I mostly stay away from them.

      • My friend had a bad experience with the brain surgery in Saw IV. But it wasn’t the visual at all, it was the audio. That drill sound just did it!

    • Josh Zyber

      @coolguy1957, That’s very strange about the spam error. We have an automated spam filter (that’s been catching a lot of mortgage ads disguised as user comments lately). But I don’t see anything from you in there. It must have been picking up on some keyword you were using that it didn’t like.

      • coologuy1957

        its cool… I think it was just the “torture-pr0n” part of my post that got it…. it thought I was pushing ads on ya’ll! 😉

  2. Shayne Blakeley

    This kind of stuff just comes off as funny to me. The only thing I really can’t stomach in movies is when an animal gets hurt or killed. The most twisted shit could go down, and I barely have a reaction, but when the golden retriever falls down the whole in Homeward Bound, or the mom dies in The Bear, I am done for.

  3. Squiggles

    Gummo. Hands down. I technically “like” Gummo, and I definitely respect it, but I feel like my own teeth are rotten after spending half an hour in that world. Just a dingy, yellow, water-logged, burnt-out, malfunctioning neurons kind of movie.

  4. Zaserov

    This is going to sound odd, considering how almost all of the other contributions have been dark or disturbing, but mine is “Meet the Parents.” No, really. There’s something about drawn out, awkward situations that actually give me a physical response. I guess it’s like Josh’s pick, where it’s less disturbing and more I just want to yell at the screen. Or maybe it’s my own lack of social skills being displayed so prominently (and accurately).



    That’s, you know, that’s it.


    • coologuy1957

      I agree with this too… Meet the Parents made me horribly uncomfortably and caused body contortions… come to think of it, so did “The Last Airbender”.. I was there with friends and my girlfriend and I wanted to leave so our bodies were twisting and turning like we had a bad nights sleep.. It was one of the first times during a movie I have been seated and watching but my body had wandered out and moved on to better things…

  5. Jane Morgan

    1. ‘Irreversible.’ Monica Bellucci emoting her ass off, and the fire extinguisher.

    2. ‘Battle Royale.’ I don’t know why, because of the youth of the kids…?

    3. ’Ishtar.’ Dustin Hoffman always freaks me out a little, but this “movie” ended my childhood.

  6. Turd Furgeson

    Any film that graphically depicts rape, or extreme violence against the defenseless.

    Though I will say that there was ONE SINGLE occasion where I accepted such [albeit brief] violence against a female. it was in the movie ‘Teeth’, and it was the only way a film could have possibly redeemed itself from showing rape in any form.

  7. I deffinately agree on Jesus Camp. I thought I was a far right-wing Christian-Conservative until I saw that. While I admire their faith, these people are so totally out there, that the poor kids have to be practically terrified to go anywhere other than home, camp, or church.

    One that immediately came to mind for me is Helfe Ich Bin Ein Junge (Help, I’m A Boy). In the original German, there are quite a few sexual remarks and inuendos that make you feel uncomfortable knowing that they are 11 years olds, and, in the original German, there is a brief full nudity scene of teenage and preteen girls. As an American, the scene makes me a bit uncomfortable – especially when others watch it with me. Shock, and a talk about censorship and what is and is not appropriate usually follows. Other than that, its one of my favorite movies.

    Hounddog is REALLY uncomfortable to watch (IF you can manage to find a copy of it at all). I hear the home video release has been way watered down. I mean, the rape scene doesn’t show that much, and its not THAT long, but still, it’s a 12 year old Dakota Fanning getting raped. That’s just not right. On top of that, its just a HORRIBLE movie. Horrible acting, the fakest accents ever in a Southern movie, extreamely difficult subject matter, and BAD script.

    Any movie where kids are forced to kiss. Kissing is usually awkward enough for kids (preteens, early teens) as it is, so I can just imagine having to do it on camera with tons of people watching you. Movies like Sweet Home Alabama and My Girl, you can almost feel their pain through the screen.

    If I can add TV shows to the mix, Toddlers and Tiarras. I REFUSE to watch this show. If I land on it, I find myself yelling and screaming at the set, wondering how in the world CPS is not stepping in and stopping these kids from being sexualized in that way.

  8. Junie

    Jesus’ Son – downhill spiral movies about drugs/ addiction, uncomfortable

    Saving Private Ryan opening scene – don’t think I’ve ever been so uncomfortable, and I’m generally not squeamish

    Kids – if you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about

    • Josh Zyber

      Mrs. Z was very upset that I didn’t pick Kids for my choice. But it’s been so long since I’ve seen it that I barely remember it at all.

  9. BostonMA

    i didn’t have a problem with Antichrist at all but one film i did have qualms with in this regards is the only David Lynch film that i consider to be “not good” (aka a “rotten” review on RT) in INLAND EMPIRE.

    like the majority of Godard’s films, i think that IE is too selfishly made and was made TOO confusing for a viewer to pull enough things away from it, unlike Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, and Fire Walk With Me..

    but yeah, IE is more in tune with this post, just too grungy, dirty, and flat out dark for me to really sit through and not be physically bothered at all. the scene near the end that distorts Dern’s face into a clown-like look was the cherry on top.

    but i’ve heard crazy things about Gummo and i’m sure there are much more “physically uncomfortable” films out there but off the top of my head, this is probably the one i’d pick.

  10. BostonMA

    also i’ve seen Gummo and Kids and i think it’s cool to note that their both made by the same filmmaker. i gotta see em now.

  11. Scott W

    Jack Ketchum’s “The Girl Next Door” is an extremely tough movie to sit through. It was just plain vile and nasty, and made me feel like I needed a shower after watching it.

  12. Maurice H.

    I’d say that to me watching the original “Grey Gardens” 1975 documentary was unconfortable at least.

  13. HumanSnatcher

    Off the top of my head, two of Andrei Iskanovs’ films, Visions of Suffering and Philosophy of a Knife. Both are on Netflix streaming, tho I saw them a couple a years ago when I rented them. Visions of Suffering is one that I would very much advise to watch totally sober. And to never ever let anyone that is mentally disturbed watch. Yes, I’m being dead series here. Philosophy of a Knife is just eff’d up. Basically, Iskanov was able to get in contact with the Russian prosecutor (which the trial happened in Iskanov’s hometown of Khabarovsk, Russia) of the Japanese for their crimes at Unit 731 and other such documents during WWII and worked from there to “re-enact” some of the things that went on. Its a 4 hour grind. The special features on the bonus disc is very well made about the prosecutor guy and such.

    Another is a German film called Suicide (also known as FinalCut.com). Der Todesking has its moments as well, then again anything by Jorg Buttgereit is uncomfortable. Aftermath by Nacho Cerda is highly disturbing.

    I know these are all “horror” films and as such are some of of the more disturbing of the crop but they will make you physically and mentally uncomfortable.

    By the way, its actually easy to get a hold of Hounddog, William. Netflix has it both to rent and stream. Yet to see it myself, but been wanting to get around to. Most of A Time to Kill, which I freaking love, makes me very uncomfortable.

  14. meezookeewee

    The French horror film, Martyrs. I picked it up on DVD the day it came out, but I haven’t watched it since. It’s a good movie, but the whole thing was very unsettling, mostly because of the brutality that wasn’t seen, but heard. I like my horror movies to be brutal to the extreme, but Martyrs was particularly vicious. It’s worth watching at least once though, if you’re a horror fan.

  15. Ken

    I agree that I also found the brain surgery scene in Saw III (or IV) quite disgusting. All the films above sound quite awful too. I’m glad I never had the opportunity to watch any of them.

    That being said though, I don’t think any film has made me more sick to my stomach than Hostel. The torture in there was just plain gross. I also highly disliked the rape scenes in the remakes of The Hills Have Eyes and The Last House on the Left. They went on too long and they were quite disturbing.

    Another film that was disturbing in an entirely different way was Sicko. I live in Canada, so the acts I saw in that film absolutely blew me away. Very, very sad stuff.

  16. besch64

    Here’s a great movie that is almost painful to watch in parts: Rachel Getting Married.

    The scene during the rehearsal dinner where Kym gets up to give a speech, then starts talking all about herself and her drug problem made me squirm so much I almost burned a hole in my seat. I don’t know if I could have possibly been more uncomfortable while watching a movie.

    • coologuy1957

      agreed… ultra painful.. now I remember why I didn’t list this – I tried to erase this movie from my mind… I felt physically uncomfortable almost the whole time…

  17. phil harbath

    while gummo and kids are similar movies, they were done by different directors. I agree that kids is up there, but for me it would have to be Passion of the Christ, the constant flesh tearing was too much for me, I was in the front row (crowded theater) and my nerves were shot. I would never sit through that movie again.

    • Josh Zyber

      Kids and Gummo had different directors, but both were written by Harmony Korine (who directed Gummo, and also has small roles in both films). I’m sure that’s what BostonMA was referring to.

  18. The movie that just makes me uncomfortable while viewing it is Dear Zachary. This is a moving documentary, well worth viewing by the way. Here is a link to the trailer: http://www.traileraddict.com/trailer/dear-zachary/trailer
    It takes all your will to remain in your seat while viewing this film. Then, there are circumstances near the very end of the film that make you sick to your stomach. These emotional responses are due to the fact that the circumstances in the film are real. I highly recommend this film, because it elicits these emotions for all the right reasons. You should feel sick to your stomach about what happened.

  19. Josh Zyber

    I’ve just got to say, this topic seems to have hit a nerve. We’ve gotten some great responses in here, including some I wish I’d thought of myself when writing my entry.

    There was a movie on TV this weekend that’s another great pick for this category — Lucas. Yes, the one with little Corey Haim as a painfully awkward nerd.

    #1) We now have the hindsight of what eventually happened to Haim, which just makes his genuinely affecting performance here all the more tragic.

    #2) Even more importantly, for me, I was that nerd. I think I was wearing that exact pair of glasses at the same time the movie came out. It’s like my worst childhood memories projected on screen — except even worse, because Lucas eventually gets a slow-clap round of applause from the whole school, but I sure as hell never got that validation.

    Even to this day, watching that movie just ties my guts into a huge uncomfortable knot.

  20. I’m gonna go with Meet The Parents. I just kept thinking, “she isn’t worth it, man!” Ben Stiller should have walked out of that house after the first five minutes.

  21. Brandon Erwin

    Antichrist definitely tops my list, with the original Last House on the Left coming in a close second. Maybe I’m weird, but Clockwork Orange ranks in at third, and the mix of violence, rape, and overall weirdness had me wanting to walk out within the first 30 minutes.