6 Best Dark Movies On Criterionchannel

Staff & contributors

Find the best dark movies to watch, from our mood category. Like everything on agoodmovietowatch, these dark movies are highly-rated by both viewers and critics.

In the movie Brazil, our hero Sam Lowery (Jonathan Pryce) lives in a dystopian world that relies on the cold productivity grind of machines. He’s in a constant battle between the high-level dominating powers that be and the low-level beatdown scums of society. Saving him from complete misery is a recurring dream he has of a beautiful woman. There, nothing else matters but love, which fills his draining soul and makes his life seem worthwhile. 

The way director Terry Gilliam handles a serious matter in such a comedic way is fantastic, and the amount of thought and effort he puts into creating every single bit of existence in this film is mind-boggling. With Brazil, he succeeds in establishing his own style, making a mark for himself in an age when plenty of auteurs compete for mere recognition.

What Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher intentionally refuses to give you by way of plot or resolution, it more than makes up for in sharp visuals, a beautifully sparse score, and an unscratchable feeling of restlessness. It's a downer for sure, watching 12-year-old James hounded by guilt as he navigates the mundane bleakness of his everyday life. But in every detail and in every interaction he has in this rundown scheme in Glasgow is a window into the simple joys James wishes he could be enjoying. The more trouble the boy walks into, the more the guitar string tightens, and the more you wish something could finally break the cycle. There's still beauty even in these conditions, Ratcatcher tells us—but it isn't right that anyone should have to live like this.

The Promise has all the trappings of a sleazy crime drama, but there's a sense of innocence buried underneath all the dirt that helps set it apart. Even as Igor helps his father do the shadiest things to exploit the illegal immigrants under their care, you can see the boy slowly wake up to the realization that life can't just be a series of transactions, rewards, and punishments. As writers and directors, the Dardenne brothers present Igor's coming of age with frankness and without pretension—even when a hint of the mystical begins to compel him to tell the truth. It might not seem all that complex at first, but the details that make up this world are fully immersive from start to finish.

In Waltz with Bashir, director Ari Folman grapples with the trauma and dehumanization of war by examining the role he played in the 1982 Invasion of Lebanon. But his memories are fractured, so in an attempt to piece them back together, he visits his comrades and has them recall the events for him. The result is both poignant and painful, a horrific tell-all of what happens on both sides of the battleground. The film is a documentary, chillingly honest and straightforward, but it's also an animation gem that continues the legacy that Persepolis started and Flee continues. By combining the harshness of war with the lightness of animation, all three films effectively deliver their anti-war message with a much-needed human and personal touch. 

This 2009 Palme d'Or winner is filmed beautifully in black and white by Michael Haneke. In equal parts mysterious and disturbing, it is set in a northern German village in between 1913 and 1914 where strange events start to happen seemingly on their own. The people of the village, who feel as if they were punished, try to investigate it as the events start affecting them one by one. As they speculate on who is behind the acts that never stop, the film unfolds its slow but captivating plot. A brilliant and unique movie.
Pedro Almodovar’s films tend to swing wildly between comedy/farce and melodrama/tragedy. Volver somehow hits the sweet spot right in the middle of all four genres, with an added dose of magical realism. It’s a total joy to watch, which is really saying something since the story touches on murder, adultery, incest, malignant tumors, ghosts, and Penelope Cruz’s derriere. But maybe that’s the magic of Almodovar’s films? He’s able to take dark themes and surround them with bright colors, warm characters, and screwball humor—and really, is there anything better than that?