Beware: These Gritty & Disturbing Netflix TV Shows Will Take You To Dark Places

What is it about scary shows that makes for such an epic binge watch? Logically, a series that disturbs viewers, keeping them up at night and causing them to jump at any sound in their house shouldn't be so easy to watch. And yet — people can't stop devouring them.

The success of creepy shows like YouLaw & Order SVU (24 years strong!), and Ozark proves that "entertainment," essentially, isn't code for light-hearted. Entertainment is compelling, interesting, and yes, sometimes dark and horrific. Anyone who watched the second episode of American Horror Story: Apocalypse can attest to the fact the show's most gruesome scenes are often its most thrilling. 

Ahead, we've gathered the most disturbing shows available to stream Netflix. Obviously, these shows aren't for everyone. In addition to providing what makes them great, we'll also let you know what potential triggers the shows contain.

Ozark (2017 - Present)

Someone saw Arrested Development and thought, "What if everything for this family went really, really wrong?" Like, drug cartel wrong. Jason Bateman gets himself into a world of trouble after his money laundering associate gets caught skimming. While the cartel kills his partner, he manages to convince them that if they let him live, he and his family will relocate to the Ozarks and use the run-down-town's businesses to recoup the losses and then some. But the cartel is always hot on their heels.

What Makes It Disturbing: I mean, what doesn't. There's torture, murder, and mobs, and that's not to mention all the emotional turmoil the family goes through as they are continuously hit with life-threatening challenges. Photo: Steve Deitl/Netflix.

You (2018 - Present)

Based on the book by Caroline Kepnes, You follows bookstore manager Joe (Penn Badgley) who falls head-over-heels in love with grad student and aspiring writer Beck (Elizabeth Lail).

What Makes It Disturbing: What starts off with a romantic comedy premise quickly turns sinister when we see just how far Joe will go to win Beck's heart.

The Alienist (2018 - Present)

An underrated banger, The Alienist follows Dr. Lazlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl), a criminal psychiatrist in 1896 New York City, who’s tasked with finding a serial killer murdering young sex workers. On his team are newspaper illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans) and Sarah Howard (Dakota Fanning), a young society woman and the first woman employed by the NYPD.

What Makes It Disturbing: It’s creepy, dirty, and dark all the time. What could be more disturbing than that?

Don’t F**k With Cats (2019)

No, this isn’t a cheerful journey of cats banding together to stop a neighborhood dog. The docuseries is actually about convicted murderer Luka Magnotta and the online sleuths that helped bring him to justice.

What Makes It Disturbing: Featuring footage from the crime scene (Magnotta murdered student Jun Lin), it’s a tough watch. There’s also videos of Magnotta torturing animals, most of which is offscreen but disturbing still.

Prodigal Son (2019 - 2021)

This series, which originally aired on Fox, is the answer to the question: What if a Hannibal Lecter-type serial killer had a son? For one thing, he’d be rife with generational trauma — and he’d also work for the NYPD hunting down serial killers like his dad. Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne) is a criminal psychologist who’s plagued by neurosis, a helicopter parent mother, and a serial killer father who’s in prison and still trying to bond with his son. Malcolm helps the NYPD solve murders by understanding serial killers — and contemplating whether or not he might be one, too. Michael Sheen as Malcolm’s father, Martin Whitly, is superb.

What Makes It Disturbing: As a made-for-cable series, Prodigal Son isn’t heavy on the gore, but it is heavy on the psychological turmoil. Throughout the series's two-season run, Malcolm deals with uncertainty around his own memories, as he struggles to recall if he encountered one of his father’s victims as a child — and whether or not he could have saved her. Many people have had similar experiences where they feel like they can’t trust their own memories, and the show really taps into the fear around this.

All Of Us Are Dead (2022 - Present)

Imagine having to be in high school. Terrifying, right? Now imagine being trapped in your high school with zombies. Straight up horrifying. Such is the position the characters in Korean drama All of Us Are Dead find themselves in as they’re forced to escape their high school, which has become ground zero for a zombie outbreak.

What Makes It Disturbing: We’re dealing with zombies here, which means that the show is pretty rife with blood and gore.

When They See Us (2019)

Another limited series with impact. This Netflix miniseries from director Ava DuVernay is about the true story of the Central Park Five, a group of young Black and Latino men who were wrongly convicted in the sexual assault of a white jogger in New York in 1989. 

What Makes It Disturbing: The fact that it’s true and that people of color continue to face discrimination within the criminal justice system. The entire four-episode series  is disturbing, but the final chapter — which documents one of the five, Korey Wise (Jharrel Jerome), during his time in prison — will haunt you. 

The Fall (2013 - 2016)

The Fall is a cat-and-mouse game, and we get to follow both the cat, DSI Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), and the mouse, serial killer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan). The drama is a fascinating character study of the people who commit heinous crimes as well as the people who go after these criminals.

What Makes It Disturbing: The character Paul Spector is incredibly disturbing. To the outside world, he's a family man. But most evenings, he puts on an all-black outfit, sneaks out of the house, and methodically stalks his young women victims, eagerly anticipating the kill.

Mindhunter (2017 - 2019)

Pop culture has an undeniable obsession with serial killers. While fascination with the macabre is nothing new, the term "serial killer" only dates back to the '70s. Mindhunter is a historical drama that looks at the intrepid team of investigators and psychologists who began to classify killers.

What Makes It Disturbing: Hello! Mindhunter is about serial killers — real serial killers, like the "Co-Ed Killer" Edmund Kemper.

13 Reasons Why (2017 - 2020)

Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) took her own life. But before doing so, she left messages on cassette tapes for 13 people who touched her life in positive and devastating ways. The first season of 13 Reasons Why flips back and forth between Hannah's sophomore year of high school and the aftermath of the tapes' secrets coming out.

What Makes It Disturbing: 13 Reasons Why derives its entire narrative propulsion from uncovering why a young girl took her own life. It contains graphic depictions of suicide and sexual assault.

The Confession Tapes (2017 - Present)

Why would someone confess to a murder he didn't do, knowing it would lead to a lifetime in jail? The Confession Tapes is a seven-part documentary from journalist and documentarian Kelly Loudenberg that, by delving into the phenomenon of false confessions, seeks to answer that very question.

What Makes It Disturbing: Unlike other entries on this round-up, The Confession Tapes isn't disturbing for graphic depictions or insinuations of violence. It's disturbing because it's a devastating indictment of the criminal justice system.

Unbelievable (2019)

Based on a true story and the book, An Unbelievable Story of Rape, this miniseries is about a string of sexual assaults that took place across the United States over several years. But it’s also about the larger issues and limitations around surrounding sexual assault reporting in the country. The series stars Kaitlyn Dever, Toni Collette, and Merritt Wever. 

What Makes It Disturbing: The fact that Unbelievable is based on a true story and is a depiction of a reality that many people across the US know intimately.

Black Mirror (2011 - 2019)

A British anthology series, Black Mirror chronicles different stories and experiences of people living in a near dystopian future. In the first episode of season 3, audiences are introduced to a world where people are rated based on their interactions with other people, which acts as the basis for everything, from your social status to whether you’re hired for a job. It’s an eerie foreshadowing to how our addictions to social media and the weight we put on it could evolve.

What makes it disturbing: The show is such a hit because it hits a little too close to home. While much of Black Mirror takes place outside of our current reality, it’s clear that the show is meant to scare viewers with what could be if we’re not careful. 

Wentworth (2013 - 2021)

Like the hit Netflix show Orange is the New Black, Wentworth is set in a women's prison. But unlike Orange is the New Black, Wentworth could never be submitted to the Emmys in the "comedy" category. This Australian show is a grisly, and oh so occasionally sexy, look at life inside a woman's prison.

What Makes It Disturbing: Name a potential issue found in women's prisons, and Wentworth goes there — brutality, torture, substance abuse, sexual assault.

Marvel's Jessica Jones (2015-present)

Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is a reluctant superhero. If she had her way, she wouldn't have the power of super-strength at all. After a car crash killed her entire family, Jessica woke up with these powers. Her life has been lonely ever since. Jessica Jones catches Jessica just as she's recovering from a brutal relationship with Kilgrave (David Tennant), a man with mind control abilities. He turned Jessica into a shell of a person. Now, he's coming for her again.

What Makes It Disturbing: Strip away the supernatural element, and it's obvious that Jessica is locked in an abusive relationship with Kilgrave. Jessica Jones depicts a woman grappling with PTSD from her time spent with a terrible, manipulative person.

American Horror Story (2011 -present)

Each season of this anthology series tries to one-up the ones that came before in terms of scares, campiness, and memorably idiosyncratic characters. In American Crime Story: Cult, which aired in 2017, a posse of killer clowns terrorizes a small town in the wake of Donald Trump's election. But the first season, Murder House, is the ideal starting point, especially since it connects to the eighth season, Apocalypse.

What Makes It Disturbing: Oh, to journey to the depths of Ryan Murphy's imagination. What does he dream of? Rubber men and torture scenarios? If we're to read American Horror Story as a reflection of its creator's fixations, then probably. American Horror Story goes to more imaginatively disturbing places than any other show on TV. Prepare to be scared and grossed out at the same time.

Happy Valley (2014-present)

Don't judge a TV show by its title. Happy Valley is not a happy show. Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) is a police sergeant in West Yorkshire, a region in Northern England. In season 1, she deals with a grisly kidnapping case at work. At home, she faces the aftermath of her teenage daughter's suicide. Gruesome stuff, yes, but Happy Valley is incredibly well done.

What Makes It Disturbing: In the U.K., Happy Valley's depictions of violence have been criticized by publications like the Daily Mail. The biggest controversy arrived after the main character's life was put in danger in a major way so she could save the victim of kidnapping.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999 - Present)

You're probably used to catching re-runs of the long-running crime procedural drama Law & Order: SVU when you're home sick and watching cable in the middle of the day. But what do you know — four seasons of the show, which looks at the most elaborately gruesome (and mostly fictional) crimes committed in New York, are available on Netflix to stream whenever you please.

What Makes It Disturbing: Let's allow the crimes depicted in SVU speak for themselves. In various episodes, a young man forces his 8-year-old brother into a porn ring; a man kidnaps a woman and uses her as a sex slave; a psychic played by Martin Short buries a girl alive and then helps the police find the body. The show contains a devastating amount of sexually related crimes.

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