I didn’t have enough room in the headline for this article’s subtitle, which is And Remember When “They Were All The Same Person” Was A Twist? This whole thing has been buzzing around in my head since a recent argument regarding the ending to Haute Tension, which I found sort of ridiculous. It’s the standard “The Protagonist Is Insane And Actually The Killer” (aka “The Split Personality” twist). But I have to say it got me thinking that this trope actually doesn’t bug me as much as the other two, since it usually says more about the characters at hand.
Still, I’m not sure what happened to our brains over the past 14 years, but you can’t call something a twist if everyone knows it’s coming. I feel like horror needs to widen its bag of tricks beyond the “they were dead”, the “split personality” and “the protag is crazy” tropes which seem to be the only three ploys in regular use for filmmakers seeking to pull the rug out from under their audience.
The “dead” thing worked for The Sixth Sense, and it sort of worked two years later with The Others. It also worked in 1962’s Carnival Of Souls. But we’ve seen it employed at least twice more recently in Passengers and The Devil’s Ground. I’m not denigrating those films necessarily, but it should probably end there. Similarly the “split ” angle didn’t even quite work in Identity and it certainly didn’t work in The Ward. It was sort of used in Shutter Island as well, but it worked there because it was actually source of catharsis for its character.
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Around the time The Ward came out I made a point to ask five people, people who hadn’t seen the movie, the following question, “If a movie takes place in an insane asylum and there are five leads, what’s the twist?” Every single person answered, “they’re the same person.”
Now, I don’t want to go on a pissy rant that denigrates anybody, few things displease me more than articles that call into question the ability and/or intelligence of a filmmaker without having all of the facts. For all I know, a lot of these scripts had been around for a while and were the passion projects of their directors. If you’ve been working on something forever, you’re not gonna just stop when something similar comes along. I get it. It’s just that we’ve reached a saturation point with this stuff. Twists aren’t necessary to a good story, but if you’re going to have one make sure it actually twists.
One recent horror film where the twist actually worked for me was A Horrible Way To Die. I feel like its ending is very much a twist, it’s just that it doesn’t call attention to itself. It’s a revelation of its characters’ true nature (both AJ Bowen’s and Joe Swanberg’s, though I find Bowen’s revelation more compelling), not an upending of the film’s reality. I’d like to see more films embrace that route and realize that “shocking” doesn’t necessarily mean “showy.”
What about you? Any pet peeve twists out there that I missed?