Wait, what? Yes, indeed. Believe it or not, Hostel began life as a documentary about an underground extreme thrill-seeking practice director Eli Roth discovered online whereby participants pay $10,000 to kill someone. The practice was supposedly not illegal because people volunteered to be murdered—extremely poor people from rural southeast Asia sacrificed themselves so their families could have money to change their lives.
Roth set aside the idea of making a doc when he realized that people who make a business of killing might, you know, kill him if he ruined their business. And so was born Hostel, the popular zenith of torture porn, which, according to some, also serves as an allegory for relations between America and the rest of the world immediately following 9/11.
The Strangers, a sleeper hit in 2008, provides enough squeamish, disturbing home invasion material to please genre fans but make others think twice about sitting through the film. The movie adds an interesting twist to the “based on true events” label—it seems to be an amalgamation of three true stories: (A) the Keddie Cabin murders; (B) the Manson family murders; and, (C) something that happened to the director as a kid. Watching the film with this in mind makes it all the more difficult to sit through.
Boys Don't Cry depicts transphobia in a terrifying way—through the real-life murder of trans man Brandon Teena at the hands of his own friends, who didn't know he was trans. What makes Boys Don't Cry so hard to sit through is how it breaks your heart, and terrifies you, in equal measure. Directed with sensitivity and compassion by Kimberly Peirce, the film makes you fall in love with Brandon and his friends.
It then shows you the fathomless darkness buried beneath the congenial nature of Brandon's friends, and ends with Brandon's death. It's a tragic vision of prejudice and fear in small town America.
#41 on The Best Movies of 1999