11 Best Challenging Movies On Hulu

Staff & contributors

One of the cinema’s most noble roles is to challenge pre-conceived perceptions and tackle difficult questions about humanity and the world. Here are some of the most important and topically challenging movies to stream right now.

Nothing about Saint Omer is easy. A female Senegalese migrant (Guslagie Malanga) is put to trial for committing infanticide, but throughout the film, it becomes clear how much of a victim she is too, of an uncaring and deeply prejudiced society. “What drove her to madness?” Her attorney asks at one point. We’re not sure. We're not necessarily asked to side with her, nor answer the many hard-hitting questions brought up in the film, but we sit with the uneasiness of it all and, in that silence, confront our ideas about motherhood, womanhood, personhood. 

This confusion is what makes the film so compelling. Despite the court’s best efforts, Laurence isn’t meant to be understood. She’s meant to be an example of the ever-ambiguous, forever-complicated, always-hurt person. It’s human nature after all to be this complex and messed up. The film shows us that the best that we can do in situations like this is to listen, understand, and as our protagonist Rama (Kayije Kagame) does, make peace with the noise. 

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Adama Diallo Tamba, Alain Payen, Aurelia Petit, Charlotte Clamens, Guslagie Malanda, Kayije Kagame, Louise Lemoine Torrès, Roald Iamonte, Robert Cantarella, Salimata Kamate, Seyna Kane, Thomas De Pourquery, Valérie Dréville, Xavier Maly

Director: Alice Diop

Orcas killing people? Saving whales? There was indeed a time when these issues were frontpage news and that might be the reason why this sounds like a 90s cliché to you. You might agree that this issue should be staunchly dealt with once you've watched Gabriela Cowperthwaite's 2013 documentary. Orcas still being held captive by marine parks like SeaWorld to perform stunts and to parade around swimming pools to entertain ticket-buying families. Blackfish is the story of one of them in particular: a bull Orca named Tilikum, who has killed several people as a result of their immoral imprisonment. Similar incidents tend to be covered up by the parks' operators and management. They are, however, attributable to the fact that the animals are quiet simply driven mad by the unnatural conditions they are subjected to. They are not born as killers, they are turned into them. First-hand accounts by former whale trainers and experts deliver fascinating truths about Tilikum and the species as whole, elaborating on their remarkable intelligence and social behaviors. For those unaware of this, this passionate documentary makes for a chilling watch.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Anderson Cooper, Carol Ray, Dean Gomersall, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, James Earl Jones, John Hargrove, John Jett, John Sillick, Mark Simmons, Mercedes Martinez, Nadien Kallen, Samantha Berg, Tamarie Tollison, Thomas Tobin, Tilikum, Whoopi Goldberg

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Rating: PG-13

It's heartbreaking to realize that Happening, a film set in 1960s France tracking a young woman's journey to dangerously and desperately terminating her pregnancy, is still very much relevant and relatable to this day. Around the world, abortion is still inaccessible, if not completely illegal, and women still struggle to lay full claim to their bodies. A lot of girls grow up with pregnancy statistics meant to instill fear, but Happening brings all that to brilliant life in intimate and unrestrained detail. The fears and wants of our protagonist Anne (played precisely by Anamaria Vartolomei) are palpable throughout. Nothing is held back in this film, and if you find yourself sick in parts, then it has achieved its goal of realistically conveying what it's like to stay alive in a society that fails to recognize your needs. 

 

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Alice de Lencquesaing, Anamaria Vartolomei, Anna Mouglalis, Cyril Metzger, Édouard Sulpice, Fabrizio Rongione, Francois Loriquet, Isabelle Mazin, Julien Frison, Kacey Mottet Klein, Leïla Muse, Leonor Oberson, Louise Chevillotte, Louise Orry-Diquéro, Luàna Bajrami, Madeleine Baudot, Pio Marmaï, Sandrine Bonnaire

Director: Audrey Diwan

Rating: R

, 2021

In the first few minutes of Mass, hushed tones, solemn movements, and awkwardly averted eyes hint at an unspoken tragedy that haunts everyone in the film. The four main characters discuss it during a sit-down, but even then it remains unspeakable; such is the dedication of first-time full-length director Fran Kranz in depicting the reality of tragic events. Not much is done in the way of plot twists and shocks, but in place of those, Mass makes clever use of close-up shots and unmoving settings to portray the privacy and paralysis of grief. For this reason, Mass often feels like a masterful play brought to life, but also more than that, a brilliant portrait of healing—or at the very least, coping with the everlasting aftermath of loss. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ann Dowd, Breeda Wool, Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Michelle N. Carter, Reed Birney

Director: Fran Kranz

To plenty of countries around the globe, democracy has become so ubiquitous that we forget it’s relatively new, at least relative to the rest of human history. Bhutan is one of the last countries that became a democracy, and writer-director Pawo Choyning Dorji chose to depict a slice of how they made the shift in The Monk and the Gun. As Tashi sets out to obtain two weapons for his mentor, and Ron seeks a specific antique gun, Dorji presents slice-of-life moments of the beautiful Bhutan countryside, intercut with the subtle ways tradition still persists amidst modernity, and the funny ways change can clash with culture. It’s no wonder The Monk and the Gun was chosen as the Bhutanese entry for the Best International Feature at the 96th Academy Awards.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Choeying Jatsho, Deki Lhamo, Pema Zangmo Sherpa, Tandin Sonam, Tandin Wangchuk

Director: Pawo Choyning Dorji

Focusing squarely on two families and a select few health workers, The First Wave gets intimate access to the fears and anxieties of individuals trying to contend with the effects of the initial outbreak of the coronavirus in New York. That these characters also tend to belong to already vulnerable sectors in the United States isn't a superfluous detail—as director Matthew Heineman illustrates (without the use of detached talking heads interviews) how proper responses to a global pandemic like this one are still hampered by capitalist interests, and racist and xenophobic institutions built into American society. All of these obstacles make every setback and every moment of progress in these characters' lives feel absolutely crucial, making for an emotionally overwhelming experience.

Genre: Documentary, History

Actor: Al Sharpton, Andrew Cuomo

Director: Matthew Heineman

In an age where recent horror films mostly use the jump-scare as a crutch to make their CGI-spawned (not to mention generic) creatures seem scary, The Babadook portrays real scares, relatable characters and a moving story. Jennifer Kent (director and writer) sets this on the backdrop of heavily Lars von Trier-inspired cinematography, elevating The Babadook from a shot at an amazing horror to a resemblance of an art house film. The unease felt during this film only increases as it creeps towards its conclusion. Whenever the Babadook (the monster of the film) is seen lurking in the peripherals of the camera, appearing in television sets and the shadows to create a sense of omnipresence that disturbs the viewer on a deeper, more primal level than that of so many recent horror films could even hope to reach. It leaves the audience with the sensation that they are being lowered onto a lit candle, spine-first. In short; the seamless acting, the beautiful shots, the slow-burning terror together creates a masterpiece that strides past any horror film of the past decade (maybe even further) and stands toe-to-toe with the greats without even breaking a sweat.

Genre: Drama, Horror

Actor: Adam Morgan, Barbara West, Ben Winspear, Benjamin Winspear, Carmel Johnson, Cathy Adamek, Chloe Hurn, Craig Behenna, Daniel Henshall, Essie Davis, Hayley McElhinney, Jacquy Phillips, Michael Gilmour, Michelle Nightingale, Noah Wiseman, Peta Shannon, Pippa Wanganeen, Stephen Sheehan, Terence Crawford, Tiffany Lyndall-Knight, Tim Purcell

Director: Jennifer Kent

Rating: Not Rated

Surreal, off-putting, and extremely disturbing, Infinity Pool plays with the concepts of cloning and the death penalty to craft an examination on colonial tourism. It’s a thematically rich horror film, with hazy neon-lit sex scenes and absolutely terrible behavior, enabled by their wealth and advanced technology that could have been put to better use. Mia Goth, in particular, is strikingly unhinged, as Gabi taunts and lures James into bigger and more terrible crimes, crimes that he can only pay off with the wealth of his father-in-law. And Alexander Skarsgård as James believably gets sucked into this extremely libertine lifestyle, fuelled by the nepotistic anxiety of not living up to his own potential. The film presents a scary notion that pushed by wealth and playground tactics, one will willingly kill their own conscience, again and again, to belong to their cohort.

Genre: Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Alexander Skarsgård, Alexandra Tóth, Amanda Brugel, Amar Bukvić, Caroline Boulton, Cleopatra Coleman, Gergely Trócsányi, Géza Kovács, Jalil Lespert, Jeff Ricketts, John Ralston, Mia Goth, Roderick Hill, Romina Tonković, Thomas Kretschmann

Director: Brandon Cronenberg

Rating: R

For people having difficulty bearing a child, artificial insemination is one way to go for parenthood, but going to sperm banks can be expensive, shrouded with too much anonymity, and have had many incidents of malpractice. Some people would rather take things into their own hands. Spermworld explores the journeys of three different internet sperm donors, who meet with hopeful parents. It can be awkward, even when the donors are fairly ordinary guys with fairly decent motives, but the way director Lance Oppenheim approaches the community is disarmingly human, acknowledging the strange quirks that come with the donation, but also the interesting parental desires human beings do have.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Ari Nagel, Atasha Peña Clay, Rachel Stanley, Steve Walker, Tyree Kelly

Director: Lance Oppenheim

Rating: R

The Two of Us could have been a sweet romantic drama all about lifelong devotion regardless of the circumstances, but instead, first time director Filippo Meneghetti makes it feel more like an unsettling thriller that captures the paranoia and near insanity it feels to be closeted– with Nina having to beg Mado to tell her family, having to hide in what has become her own home, and having to bargain and manipulate her way to Madeleine’s side. Two of Us is quite a stunning debut with such a unique depiction of a lesbian relationship.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Aude-Laurence Clermont Biver, Barbara Sukowa, Denis Jousselin, Eugenie Anselin, Jérôme Varanfrain, Léa Drucker, Martine Chevallier, Muriel Bénazéraf

Director: Filippo Meneghetti

Rating: NR

Admittedly, being released in theaters a month after Immaculate, The First Omen can almost be accused of being derivative, with similar protagonists, plots, and themes. However, unlike Immaculate, this film captures a bit of the 1970s horror style that was best seen in the original 1976 Omen film, with the paranoia, the investigations, the Eastman Kodak-inspired color grading, and the number of the devil now depicted in striking modern images and clearer digital definition. And, considering that the Roe decision was overturned two years ago, the idea of a forced virgin conception is a great way to reintroduce Gen Z to the horror franchise, as the prequel, and today’s women, now have to deal with religion and authority reducing women only into vessels. The First Omen is a timely adaptation that takes familiar horror tropes and executes them well.

Genre: Horror

Actor: Alessandra Fallucchi, Andrea Arcangeli, Anton Alexander, Bill Nighy, Charles Dance, Dobrila Stojnic, Dora Romano, Eva Ras, Ishtar Currie Wilson, James Swanton, María Caballero, Mario Opinato, Mia McGovern Zaini, Michelangelo Dalisi, Milena Božić, Miodrag Rakočević, Nell Tiger Free, Nicole Sorace, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Ralph Ineson, Sônia Braga, Sylvia Panacione, Tawfeek Barhom

Director: Arkasha Stevenson

Rating: R