Five Incredibly Bleak Films

For most people, movies are an ideal form of escapism. A place you can go to when the world becomes too suffocating or cruel. And for most people, the ideal place to escape is a place that is brighter and sunnier than the world we are normally used to. A place that is a more pastel version of the black and white world they live in everyday.

But what happens when the world you run to for a sense of comfort and light becomes even darker than your real world? Here are five movies so devastatingly hopeless that after watching them, you may need some Prozac. Be forewarned, this stuff gets pretty heavy.

House of Sand and Fog

There is always one movie that seems to inspire every list I do, and in this case, this is that film. I sat down to watch this film knowing only that Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley were in it, and that was all I needed to know, as far as I was concerned. I was very wrong, though. This movie piles devastation on top of tragedy on top of sadness. It is like a buffet of depression, and everytime you think  you are full, they pile more on and use your tears as gravy.

The story is a simple one. Jennifer Connelly gets evicted out of her San Francisco house after having failed to pay some taxes. She believes the issue has been worked out, but in the meantime, her house has been auctioned off. Ben Kingsley, who plays a former Colonel in the Iranian Military, moves in to the house with his wife and son. Connelly catches wind of this, and spirals down pretty fast.

No mater what I tell you, you will not be prepared for the hopelessness that pours out of this film.

What is interesting here is that you can almost look at this movie and consider it the unofficial sequel to another hopeless film I have talked about countless times, Requiem For A Dream. Before you think I am crazy, hear me out (I ask that of you guys quite a bit, now that I think of it).  Now assume everyone in Requiem has died except the Jennifer Connelly character.  Assume her last little ‘ass to ass’ moment scarred her and made her kick the drug.

But no one else from that film did, proverbially, so they died.  Now imagine that she moved to San Francisco to start a new life. Somewhere, in between all this, she got married, but life happened, and he walked out on her. Now we are cauight up to the beginning of this film. An ex-addict, living alone, who has nothing left. So when she loses the house, that is it. The final straw.

When I fell in love with her in Labyrinth, I had no idea how dark a road she would eventually choose.

I will not ruin this movie for you, so fret not. I am dancing around what actually happens on purpose. And that is out of respect for those of you who will feel compelled to see this film. And the performances are breathtaking. But, please, be careful. You know I write some messed up articles, so if I am warning you, then this is serious.

And even if you read this and think you have some idea where it will all end, you don’t. This is nihilism at its most extreme.

To put it in perspective, the only movie I consider to be more hopeless than this one is A Serbian Film, and I would not recommend that film to my worst enemy.


I love Terry Gilliam. Sometimes, people see a director they really like on one of my lists and think I am commenting against that director, and that is not the case. Brazil is a beautiful film. Brazil is a strange film. And Brazil is a hopeless film. When I first saw in childhood, one thing stood out to me: When Mona from Who’s The Boss got her facelift:

This was way ahead of its time.

But then, when I got older, besides the amazing cast, it was that ending that stood out to me, and still does.

This is Robert DeNiro back when he played more characters than just himself.

Dystopian societies where the average man is crushed under the foot of the emotionally and physically controlling oppressor is nothing new, but it is done so stylistically here it feels like something brand new. And considering when it came out, visually speaking, it very much was something brand new and never before seen.

I think what did it for me in this movie was (Spoiler Alert) the casting of Michael Palin as the torturer at the end of the film. The one who finally breaks the main character. I was always so used to Michael Palin as a one of the merry Monty Python guys, so to see him take that turn was powerful stuff.

This also showed me just show awesome and multi-layered Michael Palin was.

Now some people may feel the urge to take to the threads and say it is not the film itself that is hopeless, but the ending, therefore Brazil has no place on this list. To them I would say, the ending makes everything that came before it futile, therefore, the entire film preceding the end is hopeless as well.

Unlike The House of Sand and Fog, though, this is one journey that may be hopeless, but is well worth taking.


I found out about this movie, and told myself I wouldn’t watch it. I told myself nothing would bring me to watch a movie that featured (supposed) unsimulated sex between Willem Dafoe and anyone. I also know that director Lars Von Trier likes to make movies that upset people, and he likes to say things that piss people off, so I was approaching this film with disdain, but then it happened. It just happened.

I watched it.

And while some of the visuals were truly awe-inspiring:

The movie looks like how a beautiful, bad dream feels.

There are also a good number of shots in the film that cannot be unseen:

There were points in this film where my eyeballs screamed at me.

So what is it about? A man (Willem Dafoe) and his wife ( Charlott Gainsbourg) experience the tragic death of their child (while they are having sex, the baby crawls out of a window) and they retreat to a cabin in the woods where Dafoe, who is a psychiatrist, plans to treat his wife and help them both cope with the loss.

Cue a lot of sex, screaming, and weeping.

And then the dark stuff starts. I hope you like symbolism, because this film tosses it at you in buckets. Long story short, the wife slowly descends into madness, and some of the things she does are things you really would have thought you would never see in your whole life. And again, you cannot unsee this stuff.

Don’t let the pretty shots fool you, there are genital mutilations in this film.

My suggestion to you, when she smashes Dafoe’s junk with the log, turn off the movie. Because it only gets worse.

Yes, it gets worse. Much worse. And by the time it ends, the final shot of the film will sit with you long after you see it.

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  1. As I was reading your article I was thinking ‘Grave of the Fireflies, Grave of the Fireflies.’ What a horrible film! It makes Requiem, Trainspotting and The Road look like feel-good flicks. If I could erase the memory of it out of my brain, I would.

  2. The Mist.

    I remember the audience being silent as a graveyard at the end (myself included) for good damn reason. Darabont gave The Mist the ending to the story Stephen King never really finished.

  3. I love your comment about Dancer in the Dark. While I find it more bleak than anything on this list since I recall the first time I sat down with my girlfriend to watch it, she was pouring tears at the end I had never seen her so broken down with a film as Dancer in the Dark she was gone the whole night.

    I would have also placed Brokedown Palace as well on such a list.


    When it comes to The Road it seemed to me as if the only natural ending would be for the kid to kill himself. I mean what would have been more depressing than a father doing all he can to make sure his son can live on and then for his son to commit suicide moments after his death. Instead Guy Pearce stumbles along and pretty much says “Well shucks come with me little boy!”. It felt really disjointed from the rest of their ordeal and was pretty much the only bad thing about the film.

  5. I have to admit, making this list was somewhat devastating. But these comments just cheered me up. I am a simple man.
    Good call on Gummo and Kids, but I find those movies, especially Gummo, more disturbing than depressing for some reason.
    Good call on The Mist, too, but I have put it on so many lists I have done, I just wanted to not retread.
    Also, Mr Jim, I feel you on that, but (SPOILERS for The Road) I am semi-convinced they were following them like a pack of wolves, waiting for the Dad to fall, so they could feed on the kid. THAT is how messed up my head is.

  6. Speaking of genital mutilation: Jack Ketchum’s Girl Next Door. FML

    Gummo isn’t really that bleak. It’s just really fucked up. And closer to the reality of country life than I’m comfortable with.

    Barefoot Gen. Seriously, it almost make Grave of Fireflies look lightweight. Almost)

    I think you’ve mentioned Plague Dogs before, Carreiro, but I’m bringing it up again because goddamn that shit is BLEAK.

    End of Evangelion for the animated trifecta. An hour and a half of maiming and destroying every last bit of one of the greatest and most beloved animated series ever made in one of the most amazing apocalypses ever concocted.

  7. Nice list; of course “Grave of the Fireflies” had me sobbing.

    One film that is heartwrenching on a specific topic is Revolutionary Road.

    Watching Di Caprio and Kate Winslet’s once beautiful marriage crumble is awful, not on the scale of the other films on this list, but nevertheless painful to watch.

  8. Anyone stupid enough to think animations can’t be bleak never saw X The Movie.

    And anyone who doesn’t think that animations have and will destroy(ed) even the best live-action films is retarded and haven’t seen a lot of things.

  9. Remy, I’ve been coming here for almost a year now and your lists are the shining spot of the site. Your viewpoints on movies are great and it seems like you’ve seen a ton (I have too, most of the movies on your lists read like a weekend rental binge I would have when I worked at a video store). In reading this list, I would love to hear your impression on the movie, The Razor’s Edge. Starring Bill Murray, it’s a drama that takes place right after World War 1 and how he goes about trying to find inner peace after seeing the horrors of war. One of my all time favorites but man is it a downer. Nothing like the ones on this list but it still acts like a glass of ice water on the crotch. Check it out if you ever have a chance.

    P.S. – Rumor has it that Bill Murray actually told the studio that the only way he would star in Ghostbusters would be if they made this movie and he starred in it.

  10. @Joe, all great examples, but I would argue MORDUM. If we were going for fake snuff, this list would be a million miles long.
    @Trashcanman. YES, anything by Ketchum (The Woman, as well) and calling me “Carriero” just reminded me of every gym teacher I ever had, and it genuinely made me LoL. Thank you for that. Yes, to Plague Dogs. In hindsight, the name should have been a fair warning to us all. Hahaha.
    @ Nick, SUPER good call. The dissolution of marriage is brutal to witness. Blue Valentine is another example of that.
    @ Mutant Turd, Why thank you very much, good sir. That is very work-affirming, and very nice to hear. I have not seen Razor’s Edge, but will on your recommendation. I am a Murray fan and have no idea how I missed that film. Also, the name reminded me of River’s Edge with Crispin Glover. A movie I saw in my early teens that sort of effed me all up.
    @ Sams, awesome call. What is it with Winslett and depressing films.
    And regarding Martyrs, I have spoken of that film MANY times in depth, and though it is bleak to some, if the girl (SPOILERS) see’s God (which she must have, because she is at such peace in those final scenes when she is skinned) than how is that bleak? She goes to Heaven, and the bad people go to Hell. I found it inspiring, actually.
    I skinned my arm last week as a sort of collect call to God.
    Didn’t work.

  11. @Joe, all great examples, but I would argue MORDUM. If we were going for fake snuff, this list would be a million miles long.

    I think it’s bleak because there’s no sense of redemption or justice or anything. There’s nothing to take that taste out of your mouth after you’ve seen it.

    I forgot Salo. How could I forget Salo. That’s a pretty bleak film too.

  12. One more thing. If you haven’t seen the “Love Conquers All” version of Brazil, find it and watch it. What it is is basically the studio’s cut of the film. They made it to have a “broader appeal to the audience” and to also show as a TV edited version. It’s amazing what a studio can do to a movie through editing.

  13. My mom brought home Grave Of The Fireflies, none of us expected to see what we saw in it. After the first five minutes I was tearing up. I’m glad you added Grave Of The Fireflies, because….even you mentioning the movie…it just…*sniffle* I never…NEVER want to see that movie again.

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