10 Movies That Mess With Your Head

adrian brody in the jacket movie

It is often said that movies are the closest thing we have to re-experiencing our dreams. As can often happen after eating a block of cheddar cheese before bedtime, directors can present us with perplexing movie-dreams packed to the gills with the absurd, the baffling, the confusing, the mind-melting and sometimes just the plain old WTF?

In honour of this rather fine and wacky cinematic tradition, here are ten movies made in recent times that fried our noodles, wracked our brains, defied all logic and messed with our heads.

Top: Adrien Brody as the time traveller in John Maybury6s sci-fi drama, “The Jacket.”
inception movie
Defying gravity in one of the most extraordinary sequences in Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi heist thriller.

Inception

Christopher Nolan’s excellent thriller, “Inception” (2010), takes place inside the minds of people tricked into thinking their dreams are their waking life. The blurring of realities makes for a heist movie like no other, and the final shot is still debated by those who want firm answers rather than teasing ambiguity.

in absentia by quay brothers
The Quay brothers and Stockhausen crafted a frightening movie experience.

In Absentia

Animation legends the Quay Brothers and experimental composer Karlheinz Stockhausen collaborated on a BBC-funded short film together, “In Absentia,” in 2000. It is both the very essence of avant-garde cinema and nightmare movies. The score is creepy—a dark symphony of droning effects, blasts of feedback, electronic shrieks and demonic voices. “In Absentia” is a perfect marriage between mysterious and frightening images and haunting music.

primer movie
“Primer” will fry your brain.

Primer

Shane Carruth’s award-winning debut feature took inspiration from his years as mathematics nerd and software engineer. “Primer” (2004) was made for peanuts ($7,000) in the director’s garage and features a time travel plot that will make your brain hurt a lot. Carruth’s last film, “Upstream Color” (2013), was also deeply strange.

sexy girls in sucker punch movie
Sexist trash or girl power statement? “Sucker Punch” is loved and loathed in equal measure.

Sucker Punch

Plenty of people, maybe rightly so, loathe Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” (2011). Is it a pro-feminist, girl power statement or a horny schoolboy’s ultimate fantasy? None of it makes much sense and it is repeatedly self-contradictory—to the point where one must wonder whether Snyder himself understands his own movie? Still, there’s something charming about the lunacy of it all.

adriana brody on stretch with tape on mouth, in the jacket



The director reveals a crazy approach to time travel in “The Jacket.”

The Jacket

John Maybury’s foray into American cinema was 2005’s time-travel drama, “The Jacket,” starring Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley. As movies that play around with time and space go, it opts for a distinctly wacky premise: a man is pumped full of drugs, made to wear a straightjacket and kept inside the drawer of a morgue. He’s then able to go back in time to an earlier point in his life. Honestly, that’s what happens!

shutter island, mark ruffalo and leonardo dicaprio, movie
Martin Scorsese’s homage to American horror films is a genre joy.

Shutter Island

“Why are you all wet, baby?” One of the most unexpected lines in screen history, uttered by Ben Kingsley, is also the moment “Shutter Island” (2010) revealed its own lunatic plot twist. Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is not a Boston cop on a mission to expose a mental hospital’s insidious experiments on vulnerable types, but a patient of the facility unlocking the door to his own troubled mind. Yeah, because that all makes total sense. Not.

holy motor, limos near building
A Parisian adventure like no other.

Holy Motors

A celebration of cinema and a comic-surrealist odyssey set in Paris, director Leos Carax’s madder-than-a-box-of-frogs comeback, “Holy Motors” (2013), featured a mesmeric performance from Denis Lavant as the ever-changing Monsieur Merde. Hollywood actress Eva Mendes and pop star Kylie Minogue appeared in minor roles but everybody, bar Lavant, looked a bit confused.

trash humpers movie
Actors in weird-looking masks, pretending to be old people, humping trash. It could only be a Harmony Korine movie.

Trash Humpers

Harmony Korine is well-known as a provocateur and for producing very odd work. “Trash Humpers” (2009) was greeted by critics mostly with “What the f*** did I just watch?” bafflement. Shot on crappy videotape, four actors dressed in masks that look like melting old people, misbehave and trash—and/or indeed hump—anything they can lay their dirty hands on. Is it genius or just plain ridiculous? You decide.

scary white painted man in the lord of salem
Rob Zombie’s LSD horror flick is gloriously insane!

The Lords of Salem

Ken Russell on a pogo stick hopped up on LSD. That’s how I’d describe Rob Zombie’s psychedelic horror show. A radio DJ (played by Sheri Moon Zombie) is targeted by evil witches and made to do witchy things while losing her grip on reality. You’ll either find it all brilliant or hate its stupid guts.

russell crowe yelling in Noah
Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” is the craziest Biblical epic/blockbuster ever made.

Noah

“Noah” has only just been released but deserves a place on any list of this nature. How so? The William Blake-like intensity of vision and a generally whacked-out-of-its-gourd approach to The Flood narrative is mainstream movie-making at its most daring. Darren Aronofsky has used Hollywood’s mega bucks to produce the ultimate anti-blockbuster.

All photos © respective film studios
Martyn Conterio

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Martyn is based in London, England and writes about movies. He has had work published by Little White Lies, The Guardian, Total Film, Grolsch Film Works, Rue Morgue and other quality publications and websites. He is the author of a monograph on Mario Bava's classic horror film, "Black Sunday." An avid soccer fan, he supports... Follow the author @ Twitter and view more articles.