Some films just make sense. You can describe them in a single sentence and give the plot, the tone, the genre of the film. And then there are some films that it is practically unimaginable how someone came up with it; films that start with sentences like, “Okay, I know this sounds terrible but…” here are five films that shouldn’t work but somehow they do.
Spoiler Warning for Choke, Four Lions, Being John Malkovich, The Blair Witch Project and Locke
A film based on the Chuck Palahniuk novel – is not as violent or immediately unsettling as Fight Club but certainly weirder. Victor is a sex addict who works at a colonial-era theme park and earns money for his con-artist mother by going to restaurants, pretending to choke and having a stranger save his life. Victor says that if you save someone’s life you feel responsible for them and so he milks them for as much money as he can. A weird start but it gets weirder, through an extremely convoluted turn of events it is revealed to Victor that he is a descendent of Jesus Christ (but he isn’t really). It’s very true that you can get away with stuff in books that you just couldn’t in films, it would seem ridiculous, or too dark and by the standards of literature Choke the book is weird, but in film, Choke is really out there.
Being John Malkovich
A film that is so weird that it sounds like a rejected idea from The Twilight Zone. Talented but unsuccessful puppeteer Craig takes a day job filing in an office where the height of the floor is literally half that of a normal floor, meaning staff are constantly crouching. On day one he becomes besotted with cool Maxine despite having a girlfriend already. Then Craig finds a hidden door that when he goes through it deposits him in the mind of the actor John Malkovich, seeing through his eyes, until being ejected into New Jersey. What follows is scheme after scheme to gain control of this door and then John Malkovich and the bizarre love triangles of relationships involving various people inhabiting Malkovich. It’s weird, funny and moving and even contains a peculiar cameo for Charlie Sheen and is the film that made the writer Charlie Kaufman synonymous with very odd films.
Tom Hardy gives a sensational performance as the title character in a film which is set entirely in a car, with Locke talking on the phone to various people about big events in his life. When I first heard about Locke I had assumed it was some sort of unusual thriller, was he talking to a hitman on the phone who had his family? But no, Locke is driving overnight to be at the side of the woman he had a one night stand with who is having his baby. This coincides with a genuinely monumental engineering project which Locke is managing but is missing to be at the birth of his child. Phone calls go back and forth between Locke, his colleagues, the local council, his wife and the woman he slept with. This should be perhaps the most boring film ever made, it even includes a discussion about filing paperwork with the local council, but it is engrossing. Locke is trying to do the right thing for everyone – he knows he made a mistake but he needs to support the woman he slept with, he needs to finish this job, he needs to be honest to his wife (obviously, he really needed to not have an affair but that has happened). Certainly, not a wild ride of thrills and scares but nonetheless a very interesting film.
I think Chris Morris is literally the only person in the world who could have successfully brought this film into being. Four Lions is the story of four British Muslims who are planning to commit a terrorist attack. And it’s a comedy. Chris Morris was already hailed as a comedy genius for The Day Today, Brasseye and more. For what would be a hugely controversial film he had a long record of staring down the assembled fury of the media and much of the British public and telling them to sod off. The film is exceptionally funny and poignant, we see the film through the eyes of the four terrorists and the relationship between best friends Omar and Waj is heartbreaking, especially when Waj is having doubts about their attack, Omar telling him to look into his heart, and Waj replying his heart says, “It’s wrong, Waj, don’t do it.” A truly great film that manages to have jokes about suicide bombing, drone strikes and religious extremism as well as jokes about the relative size of hands and Toploader.
Blair Witch Project
It seems conclusive that The Blair Witch Project is not the first found footage film but it very much has become the touchstone film of the genre. Nothing about The Blair Witch Project should work – it has no stars, made by unknown filmmakers, with an original budget IMDb lists as $60,000, the camera shakes like it’s on a rollercoaster and it’s too dark to see what is happening half of the time. Of course, many of these things were actually the secrets of its success. The fact that the actors were unknown allowed a marketing campaign that suggested it really was found footage, the shaking camera made it seem real, the darkness allowed you to imagine what was happening. Many people saw this film and hated it – it wasn’t scary and it was boring, but undeniably many people saw it and were terrified. To this day it is one of the most financially successful films ever when comparing the budget with the amount of money made.
Also Read: How The Blair Witch Project Changed Horror