Movies That Will Scare the Politics Out of You
1. An American Haunting
Yes, this movie is more of a traditional horror than any sort of political thriller: the nineteenth century portion of the story is set in motion when John Bell (Donald Sutherland), convicted of stealing a woman’s land by overcharging her for interest, is freed because the damage to his name (or, if you will, brand) seems punishment enough. Sound familiar? Yes, this is basically the housing crisis—with ghosts!
Not the Alexander Payne movie of the same name, mind, but the Johnnie To picture about a “campaign” that makes U.S. electoral contests seem downright civil. Two candidates and their supporters vow for the position of chairman of Wo Shing Wo, a Chinese triad; it’s not the sort of position where you can make nasty implications in campaign ads so, instead, murder!
3. Rescue Dawn
Werner Herzog’s harrowing survival story, in which Vietnam War pilot Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) plots to eventually free himself from torture and imprisonment, isn’t especially political, nor, on the face of it, particularly scary—it’s actually one of those triumph-of-human-spirit things, albeit with minimal treacle and occasional dark humor. The scary part comes from watching Bale waste away onscreen again, living off handfuls of rice in his prison camp, and refusing to sign documents condemning America. This, in turn, may waste away a viewer’s own feelings that war is anything but insane hell, requiring insane tenacity to escape it.
4. Rosemary’s Baby
Few debates inspire more passion than the issue of abortion, and Rosemary’s Baby isn’t really about the right to choose so much as a sense of creeping dread, but the possibility that Rosemary (Mia Farrow) carries a demon spawn does, on the side, resemble a nightmare scenario concocted to scare the pro-life instincts away from the deeply religious. At very least, Rosemary’s Baby suggests a modification to pro-life legislative language: “…except in cases of Satan.”
5. The Crucible
Arthur Miller repurposed the Salem witch trials for his McCarthy-era allegory about persecution. In this adaptation, Daniel Day-Lewis and Joan Allen play the central couple, with Winona Ryder as the girl who accuses them of witchcraft. The movie and play are about witch-hunting; though no witches materialize, this is very much a political horror story, and bone-chilling in its way.
6. The Fly
Even the most dedicated proponents of scientific experimentation may find themselves repulsed and terrified by the results of the experiments in David Cronenberg’s freaky re-do of The Fly. Much of the movie plays out as a two-hander between Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis characters, and it’s the movie’s intimacy that renders the ultimate transformation—a result of his scientific tinkering—all the more terrifying.
7. The Manchurian Candidate
In this 2004 remake of the 1962 classic, Denzel Washington plays a Gulf War hero who finds himself in the midst of a plot to assassinate a presidential candidate and install a brainwashed Vice President in his place. This story has endured for the past bunch of decades not just because of general Cold War-inspired paranoia, but because, be honest, the idea of a brainwashable VP will probably seem scarily plausible to members of either party.
8. The U.S. Vs. John Lennon
Occupy-style rants about the government suppressing protestors are often dismissed with an eye-roll, but this documentary about the former Beatle details the U.S. government and CIA’s desire to silence prominent anti-war voices in the early seventies—culminating with an attempted deportation of the rock and roll legend. Richard Nixon paying this much mind to a popular singer and songwriter seems like a scary allocation of resources, doesn’t it?
9. Thank You for Smoking
Aaron Eckhart is a Big Tobacco spin-man happy to tell you that studies haven’t found any links between cigarettes and lung cancer. If Eckhart portrayal doesn’t freak you out; how much you like him, and the ways his pro-cigarette patter (no worse, he posits, than alcohol or cholesterol-rich foods or cheese) start to sound convincing, might.
Stone isn’t one to keep his political views in the voting booth, yet his portrait of George W. Bush is far from a hatchet job; the man comes off less malicious or even dim than simply out of his depth and desperate to prove himself. All presidents should get biographies this scarily human.
In the mood for something a little less … disturbing? Check out our list of the most romantic movies of the 21st century and feel all warm and fuzzy.