Movies you should never watch on a first date
Let’s be honest, movies make lousy first dates. You’re sitting in a darkened room together, facing forward, anxiously aware of each other’s presence but unable to communicate much, and the old yawning trick just doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s not a great way to get to know one another. But if dinner is too daunting and a carriage ride is too ridiculous, a movie does offer a reliable middle ground. Hopeful romantics have been flocking to movie theaters ever since there were movie theaters to flock to. And it does give you both something to talk about afterward, which is especially good for those of us with no personality to speak of.
That said, if you’re trying to woo anyone, some movies should be avoided like a drunk uncle at a wedding. Sure, if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be, and no amount of pointed satire or graphic mutilation is going to change that, but those chances don’t need to be taken. Whether you’re curled up on the couch or tossing back handfuls of overpriced popcorn at the cinema, these movies won’t just kill the mood on a first date; they’ll put a bag over the mood’s head, drive the mood out to the woods and make it beg for mercy before planting one between its eyes. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Blue Valentine laughs in the face of romance
It can go either way with Ryan Gosling. La La Land and Crazy Stupid Love are home-run date night movies, all life-affirming charm and laughs and whirlwind romance. Then you have your Blade Runner 2049s and your Half Nelsons and your Only God Forgives-es, brooding examinations of tortured masculinity and loneliness, practically tailor-made to bum you out. Blue Valentine, an intimate portrait of the cutesy beginnings of a relationship and the path it takes, seems squarely at home in the former camp at a glance. Indie darlings Grizzly Bear did the pretty soundtrack, there’s a ukulele serenade, and it has valentine in the title for pete’s sake. Good, clean fun, right? Oh you poor, naive little lamb.
The movie also follows that relationship in the midst of a breakdown several years later, and the sequences are loaded with a sense of misery and hopelessness that’s every bit as devastating as a hail of gunfire in any war movie. Director Derek Cianfrance lived with his leads for a month in preparation for the shoot and they improvised most of their dialogue, resulting in a dark, frank, and unflinchingly realistic depiction of an ill-conceived marriage eaten away by time and insecurity. It was so heavy that Gosling’s doctor strongly suggested doing a comedy afterward. Powerful stuff, but best experienced alone, if only so you can scoop up what remains of your tattered soul in peace.
Happiness by name, existential gloom by nature
Todd Solondz’s Happiness will not make you feel happy. What it leaves you with is more like that anguish you feel when you accidentally call your teacher “mom” in the middle of class. Or when you say an awkward goodbye to a casual acquaintance but then you both start leaving in the same direction. Or when you think someone is waving at you, so you wave back, only to discover the wave was actually directed at someone behind you. You get the idea.
Happiness is a darkly comic portrait of miserable, messed-up suburbanites doing messed-up things in pursuit of love and fulfillment. Among them is a paedophile, a serial killer and deviant who gets off on making obscene phone calls to women, and they’re all portrayed with some measure of sympathy. That’s not to say it isn’t funny — sometimes it’s hysterical. But it’s a thoroughly uncomfortable kind of funny, the kind that makes you feel ashamed for laughing. In a glowing four-star review, Roger Ebert called it “a film that looks into the abyss of human despair,” and concedes that it’s “not a film for most people.” Play it safe and throw on a Pixar movie instead.
Gone Girl will probably send one of you packing
Depending on which thinkpiece you’re reading, Gone Girl is either triumphantly feminist or troublingly misogynistic, or even both at the same time. But what most people seem to agree on is that the movie interrogates the myth of the perfect couple before basically blowing it apart, exposing our insecurities and confusions about coupledom in the process. The husband and wife at the center of the story are despicable enough in their own ways, but marriage itself comes across as the most heinous and nightmare-inducing character of the thing.
In his review for Rolling Stone, Peter Travers describes Gone Girl as “the date-night movie of the decade for couples who dream of destroying one another,” which isn’t so much a red flag as it is a flashing red strobe light accompanied by a blaring siren. With David Fincher at the helm and Gillian Flynn penning the screenplay based on her own bestselling novel, the film settles into reliably-propulsive-thriller-mode pretty quickly, which, to be fair, is typically pretty good date material. But you’re better off saving this one until you both know each other a little better.
Audition sneaks up on you like a windshield on a bug
Acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike more or less invented J-horror as we know it with Audition, according to The Guardian, and even amid a throng of gruesome imitators almost 20 years later it packs a serious punch to the gut. Or, more accurately, a series of needles inserted into the eyeball. Popcorn, anyone?
Miike’s adaptation of fellow disturbed crackpot Ryu Murakami’s novel starts off fairly innocuously. The more unsettling elements of its first two acts are subtle enough that, had it not been advertised as a horror movie, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching an offbeat romcom. But no, sweet babies, the horror does come, and it’s not the fun, hide-your-face-in-your-date’s-shoulder kind. Audition follows a recent widower’s dubious attempts to find a new romantic partner by setting up a series of fake auditions for a fake film. He finds and chooses a woman he deems just meek and subservient enough, painfully unaware of the brutal kharmic torture that awaits him in the film’s final stretch. Gory enough to have even the most hardened horror-nuts clutching their pearls, Audition becomes a brutal examination of gender roles and unchecked male arrogance by the end — which is really more of a fourth or fifth date kind of thing.
The Human Centipede: First Sequence will probably be your last date
The Human Centipede: First Sequence cemented its place in the twisted halls of horror infamy as soon as the first poster dropped, with its “100 percent medically accurate” tagline and its bonkers premise. That premise — a deranged surgeon attempts to sew three people end-to-end so that they form a single digestive tract — was either demented or inspired (or both) depending whom you asked and how much cough syrup they ingested as a child, and somehow it ended up spawning two sequels and real discussions with actual medical professionals.
The sequels upped the stakes and the yick-factor considerably, and upped the stupidity even higher still. They were derided accordingly, but the first film actually flirted with mild critical acclaim, managing an almost-respectable 50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s that deranged premise more than anything else that lands it here among its depraved and depressing cohorts, though. The implications of permanent mouth-butt attachment aren’t something you ever need to consider, let alone in the company of someone you might want to see naked at some point.
The Lobster really gets its claws into you
Yorgos Lanthimos’ pitch-black comic sensibilities are an acquired taste at the best of times, and far from safe territory for a first date, but The Lobster takes things a few steps further than usual. In the tragicomic bizarro world of this film, all single people are forced to check into a drab coastal hotel where they have 45 days to find a mate or be transformed into an animal of their choosing. Colin Farrell plays David, a middle-aged sad sack whose wife has left him, and David’s animal of choice is the titular lobster. It’s a bitingly satirical alternate reality in which singledom is essentially outlawed, and the alternative doesn’t seem much better. Seriously, you’re as likely to just abandon everything and go live as an elk in the woods after watching this as you are to get a second date.
The Lobster takes familiar human gestures and behaviors associated with dating and the desire for companionship and renders them utterly alien and strange. As The Cut puts it, the film “turns dating into the most drab and formulaic of rituals: devoid of passion, undercut by urgency,” and it poses some genuinely uncomfortable questions in the process. Are contemporary dating conventions just driving us further apart? Are truly fulfilling relationships even possible? Is it better to be alone? Should Colin Farrell’s impressive moustache-and-gut combo have won an Oscar? These are questions you really don’t want to be wrestling with on a first date, if at all.
Antichrist, the quintessential anti-date movie
Lars von Trier’s Antichrist opens with a slow-motion symphony of unsimulated intercourse intercut with the death of a small child, and things only get darker from there. If everything else here hadn’t already convinced you that romance is dead, this might just deliver the final blow.
The film follows a married couple (played by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) as they move to an isolated cabin in the woods to try and deal with the death of their infant. Long story short, things go from bad, to worse, to oh-dear-god-that-talking-fox-is-disemboweling-itself, and the less said about the graphic depictions of castration, the better. Even if you and your date are both well acquainted with von Trier’s particular brand of provocation and horror, Antichrist is a tough watch. At least four people allegedly fainted during its premiere at Cannes, according to The Guardian, and many others walked out early in disgust. Your date might just do the same, and you’ll probably never look at each other — or scissors — the same way again.
Eraserhead is a waking nightmare designed to disturb
David Lynch’s black-and-white surrealist masterpiece tells the story of Henry Spencer, a timid and unassuming working man played by the late Jack Nance, who lives with his anxious girlfriend and their limbless, writhing, constantly screaming baby in a nightmarish industrial hellscape that vaguely resembles our own reality. Their relationship starts to fall apart after the baby’s birth, and Henry retreats further and further into his destructive fantasies as the nightmare spirals out of control. Or something along those lines. An exploration of “the terror of procreation,” according to The Guardian, the only thing you can count on with Eraserhead is that you’re probably not going to be in the mood for a romantic candlelit dinner afterward.
Among the vast array of horrors offered across Eraserhead’s 89 minutes are the aforementioned monster baby, cooked chickens that hemorrhage and squeal when prodded with a fork, and a singing lady with tumors in her cheeks who lives in the radiator and smiles incessantly. This could all very well be right up your sick, twisted alley, and that of your date, and you wouldn’t be the first — the film is a bona fide cult classic that essentially popularized the notion of the midnight movie. But until you’ve properly gauged just how much of a kindred weirdo your potential partner actually is, you probably don’t want to take that risk.
Teeth might have a little too much bite
Horror movies are typically a safe bet when it comes to dating. They get the adrenaline pumping, the audience tends to be more reactive than usual, and fun physical contact isn’t uncommon. Horror-comedies are usually even better. Well, 2007’s Teeth, a satirical take on the vagina dentata myth that falls squarely into this category, might just have you both seated at opposite ends of the theater, possibly hunched over with your legs tightly crossed, avoiding eye contact for the rest of the night.
Teeth tells the story of high school student Dawn, a devout Christian and vocal chastity advocate who, after an unwanted sexual encounter turns grisly, discovers she has a lethal set of teeth growing in her nether regions. As she gains more and more control over her affliction, the film actually becomes an unconventional “quasi-feminist fable,” according to The New York Times, and a surprisingly sharp look at a woman asserting control over her own sexuality, but there are just enough scenes of member dismemberment to send any males in the room into a state of clammy panic. You and your date may soon have trouble holding hands, let alone doing anything more intimate.
Closer might just push you apart
Closer, Mike Nichols’ bleak 2004 melodrama, follows two couples in London who fall in love, fall out of love, cheat on each other, and then describe their infidelities to their partners in vivid detail for the sole purpose of hurting them. The central characters are petty, manipulative, cynical, and selfish, and the final message essentially amounts to “everyone lies and cheats, so what’s the point?” It’s extremely stagey and histrionic, and a lot less blatantly horrifying than, say, Audition, but still — watching crummy people behave cruelly and irrationally toward one another and then cry and scream about it for two hours is not exactly prime first date fodder. Slate cites it as the worst date movie of all time, calling it “an alienating viewing experience, one that diffuses, rather than facilitates, romantic connection,” so unless you already secretly hate your date and you actually want the evening to go poorly, leave this one on the shelf.
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