Horror movies work because they tap into very primal levels of the viewer’s consciousness. A monster, curse, or knife-wielding maniac stands in for a real-life anxiety. One might notice that the so-called “torture porn” genre took off after reports of military torture started saturating the news. So if metaphorical stand-ins for the things that scare us work so well, then what of movies that can confront audiences with those fears directly? The Cabin in the Woods submitted that we tell horror stories as a relief from the terrors of reality. What happens when there is no such relief? Here are five documentaries that bring forward very real, very intimidating horrors…

The Imposter (2012)

Whereas the other documentaries listed here follow social issues, this one tells a very personal tale, one that will have you asking what you would do if you landed in the situation that the family in this film faced. Three years after the disappearance of Texas preteen Nicholas Barclay, he suddenly resurfaced (pictured above). In Spain. With a completely different appearance. And yet his family took this person in nonetheless. Bart Layton’s film maintains a pervasive sense of sickening dread, as first-hand accounts of the eponymous impostor lays bare how easy it is to take advantage of people’s desperate need for something to be true, no matter how unlikely. It’s a dark, sad tale of heartless deception.

The Corporation (2004)

The conceit of this film is brilliant in its simplicity: corporations are legally considered people, so what kind of people are they? The answer: one could diagnose the corporation as a psychopath. Unrestrained business has toppled governments, repressed human rights, and degraded standards of living the world over. These are massive, unfeeling entities concerned with nothing more than the accumulation of wealth, no matter what the consequences, and they are more powerful than most nations. They are Lovecraftian cosmic horrors, and the average consumer is their worshipper.

Jesus Camp (2006)

The new generation is more accepting and inclusive of different people than any that have come before it. There’s a general hope that the forces that work to suppress equal rights in this country will die out as this new blood comes into the fold. But what if that isn’t the case? What if the wheels of hate will only continue to turn? This doc makes that possibility seem all too plausible. It goes inside a Christian summer camp, where children are indoctrinated to believe that they are to bring America “back to Christ.” They pray for “righteous judges,” learn how global warming isn’t real, and bow down before a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush. But what’s most unnerving is that Becky Fischer, the woman who runs this camp, has since used this movie as a recruiting tool for her ministry. One person’s revulsion is another’s inspiration.

Collapse (2009)

Society is about to fall apart, and Michael Ruppert is here to tell you how. Shot as if you personally are meeting the investigative reporter in a secret location, this movie is a masterwork of atmosphere. Even though at least half of what Ruppert says is either overly alarmist or completely untrue, for the time that you are sitting here with him, you believe him utterly. Collapse exacerbates every secret doubt you might have about your ability to survive without the comforts of modern technology, and about the true stability of the systems we trust to protect us. Because even though Ruppert is somewhat unhinged, he isn’t wholly wrong.

The Big Fix (2011)

Like The Corporation, this doc criticizes corporate malfeasance, but while that film took a broader view of the issue, this one focuses around one incident and everything that came of it: the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This is a case study in how unrestrained capitalism ruins the lives of ordinary people on a mass scale. BP could have taken steps that would have prevented the explosion, but didn’t, and there was no one to tell them otherwise. They cut every corner they could in the cleanup, sometimes just covering up oil-soaked beaches with more sand. It’s a portrait of how business keeps government in its pocket, and how the innocents are the ones who suffer as a result.