In today’s movie culture, major studios have seemingly swallowed up their competitors and operated under the mantra of “franchise, franchise, franchise.” Movies seem to be made with the idea of copying what’s worked before, splitting up a small story into as many films as possible and banking on the idea that moviegoers will become hooked. Reboots and remakes are the name of the game now.
However, a few enterprising individuals still seem to only make original and thought-provoking films, the kind that linger on your mind weeks after you’ve seen them. Most know the famous names and their films — David Lynch, Paul Thomas Anderson, Darren Aronofsky and the like — but few know the hidden gems that have fallen out of the public’s view. We’re willing to bet you haven’t seen or even heard of most of these trippy brain-twisters.
If David Lynch directed Romeo and Juliet, it would turn out something like this. Apart deals with the psychological affliction of “induced delusional disorder,” an actual mental affliction that causes hallucinations to become shared between two or more people. In this case, lifelong friends and lovers.
Their case has the nasty habit of taking the form of predictions that result in disaster whenever they’re together, and both Noah and Emily are aware of the peril their love causes those around them. To further complicate matters, Noah is later struck with amnesia from a horrible event, and because of this quests to find Emily, knowing she is the only one who can answer his questions about his past.
To say anymore would spoil a truly worthwhile film. Although it’s an entirely independent production, the quality of the film, from the acting, to the script, to the special effects, is outstanding. It’s one of those films that requires multiple viewings to fully grasp, with each one bringing a new surprise. Both intriguing and tragic, Apart has the unique ability to make the viewer cry passionately and think rationally at the same time.
9. Across the Hall
Tragically, Brittany Murphy died just as her career was taking off. Across the Hall was her final film, in which her character also suffers a tragic fate. A tribute to the noir genre, the film comes together like a jigsaw, as it’s told in a non-linear fashion where every scene reveals a new piece of the puzzle. There also are many clever references to older noir flicks (if you’re a buff, check out the movie sign at the end and the alias June uses to check into the hotel).
It also follows the spirit of film noir, building up the suspense with each minute as the clues to what’s really going on are revealed scene by scene. Miss one moment, and you might not grasp the full impact of of the film.
8. Animal Farm
If Babe was made for adults, it would be similar to this Emmy nominated adaptation of the famous novel by George Orwell. Although the plot is straight-forward and linear, the imagery and tone are anything but. This is one of those films that begins as a light-hearted dream and descends into a nightmare.
Starring the voices Kelsey Grammer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Patrick Stewart and many other well known names, the level of production far exceeds any other adaptation of the story. Brutal, tragic, maddening and thoughtful, it’s far more then just a tale of a small farm turned upside down through revolution. It’s a mirror of human good and evil, perhaps easier to comprehend and digest in the guise of the animals struggling for high ideals and a better life.
7. Hotel Room
If anyone is known for surreal films, it’s David Lynch of Twin Peaks and Eraserhead fame. But what few know is that in 1993 Lynch took another stab at the television market with a three part series called Hotel Room. Each episode is set in a different time period, although the hotel and it’s employees never age or change, only the guests.
Relying less on visual clues and more on dialogue, the stories still retain the creepy atmosphere of Lynch’s more well-known works — but what the characters reveal through their words is just as shocking as the horrific images he’s better known for. The third episode, presented above, hammers home the impact the series has as a whole. When you finally realize what these two lovers are really talking about, and that it’s not just random nonsense, it sends chills up even the sturdiest of spines.
6. The Dead Girl
The second film featuring Brittany Murphy to make this list, this is a beautifully interlaced story that chronicles the lives of those attached to a young woman who has taken a wrong turn in life and is murdered. This film also fits together like a puzzle, with odd coincidences and eerie foreshadowing found throughout.
It seems Murphy’s best work was saved for her final days, as her performance shows a remarkable range and skill level. All of the supporting cast, including Josh Brolin of No Country for Old Men fame, also enact their roles perfectly. This is a spiderweb of a film, which shows how one seemingly insignificant life taken far too soon can touch the lives of so many others attached by circumstance.
5. Where The Truth Lies
Known for works such as The Sweet Hereafter and Exotica, Atom Egoyan’s greatest and most confusing work is perhaps his most unknown. Despite starring Alison Lohman, Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth, and living up to the highest standards in production and quality, Where The Truth Lies went almost unnoticed through theaters and seemingly remained that way. But if you missed it, you missed out.
This is a movie with many layers. It tells not only the story of how a murder was carried out and covered up, but also how a book about the crime was written and how the crime was investigated years after the fact. Underneath this narrative, it also tells the story of a twisted love triangle between all those involved with the case, and the tragic outcome of their tensions. Watching it is almost like watching three movies at once, all which coincide and interweave into a puzzling masterpiece highlighted with moments of sheer madness.
4. Millennium Actress
Spirited Away is perhaps the most well-known surreal anime. However, if any creator has a handle on “weird,” it’s Satoshi Kon. His Millennium Actress tells the story of a famous actress who’s been in seclusion for 30 years, and finally relents to an interview with two reporters in her final days. The weirdness comes when you realize that the reporters are actually traveling with her through her life as she retells it, and it’s slowly revealed what her true ambition was all along.
Very few movies that attempt to teach a moral lesson actually manage to pull it off without coming across as preachy, but this is the exception. The truth of her quest and the terrible result of all her searching is heartbreaking and sobering. She learns that sometimes chasing your childhood fantasies can lead to a wasted life, no matter how successful the journey to regain your innocence made you along the way.
3. Perfect Blue
If Satoshi Kon revealed his sensitive side with Millennium Actress, his dark side is shown without any reservation in Perfect Blue. It deals with the consequences of fame and fortune in a way that no other film has approached, and shows the viewer that although it may seem that to be on top of the world means to be in control, it can also mean that a star’s whole life is in the hands of a public that adores and idolizes her too much.
This is a film that will surprise you and keep you guessing until the very end, and all the while disturbing you, not only with brutal imagery and horrific violence, but with the fracturing of reality itself. It’s a twisted car wreck of a story, filled with things you don’t want to see but can’t help but stare at anyway.
Underground sex clubs, big ugly spiders, a mysterious twin and more make this film a masterpiece of surreal cinema. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Enemy has perhaps the most “huh” ending of any on this list. Its true story is never explained, but that’s what makes it fun — it’s one of those films that leaves the plot open to interpretation, and no one viewer will understand it the way another will.
The secret is in the spiders, and filmmaker Denis Villeneuve swore the entire cast to secrecy about their meaning by making them sign a confidentiality agreement. But watch this closely a few times, and once you “get it” understanding the human mind becomes just a little easier.
Christopher Nolan is a household name after the success of his Batman trilogy, Memento and Inception. But few know of his first film, 1998’s Following, which easily compares to some of his greatest works in the genre of making your mind melt.
Following is the story of a writer who receives his inspiration from following complete strangers as they go about their daily routines. He has rules: never follow the same person twice, and never follow anyone into their home or work. It’s only when he breaks this rule while following a thief that his world is turned upside down.
Filmed entirely in black and white and with almost no production budget, the talent of the young director still shines through as his knack for red herrings and shifting plot points is on full display. The most striking twist is revealed when the protagonist finds out there’s much more to his activities then he originally thought, but to say more would spoil the film. But if you love a good brain-tickler, this is a must see.