Like the horror genre, thrillers have the ability to alter the viewer’s perception of what’s to come. It can be done in a quick and abrupt manner or it can be a build-up to an unexpected path.
The best twists come from established characters doing something against the grain. Or there may be unforeseen motivations that defy public expectations. From horror thrillers to the simplest of the genre, there are many films that have thrown quite astonishing curveballs at the viewer. Plus, those curved balls aren’t always thrown in the third act. And while most fans of the genre are already aware of these twists and turns, it goes without saying that spoilers abound in the following entries.
ten No Motive – Strangers (2008)
Like Michael Myers before them, the masked killers of The foreigners have no real method behind their real madness. The film actually has two legitimately surprising turns in its narrative. The first is the shattering fate of Glenn Howerton (It’s always nice in Philadelphia) Mike. He arrives home and realizes that something is seriously wrong.
He enters the house, where the main character James mistakes him for an intruder and shoots him in the head with a shotgun. It is very fast and devastating. Adding to the horrific impact of the carnage is the fact that there is no reason behind it. The couple were just at home.
9 It was Melissa Leo – Prisoners (2013)
The sinister but convincing film “Missing Persons” by Denis Villeneuve, Prisoners, has a doozy of an ending. The adorable Melissa Leo plays Holly Jones, who seems cold and distant throughout the film, but there isn’t much of a story about her past.
The public is led to believe that it was Alex Jones (Paul Dano) who kidnapped the two little girls. Then there’s an even steeper tilt that it’s Bob Taylor (David Dastmalchian) instead. Leo’s performance properly expresses the character’s rage, and her explanation of how she’s kidnapped and abused children for years (as a revenge against God tactic) never feels anything less than an organic creepy.
8 The Zodiac Slayer Is Gone – Zodiac (2007)
David Fincher’s historically accurate crime thriller, Zodiac, is a film that almost gives the audience an answer. The fact that the Zodiac Killer was never caught in real life is baffling, and the lack of certainty about Arthur Leigh Allen’s guilt is atypical cinema.
Thrillers tend to end with actors like Clint Eastwood or Morgan Freeman catching the serial killer before the credits roll. Zodiac found common ground and offered a clue to the public without taking an official position. It’s an unorthodox variation on an established formula that makes Fincher’s modern classic even more watchable.
7 For once an effective use of “It Was All A Dream” – The Descent (2005)
Lowering is a horror thriller that is not for the claustrophobic. He follows six women who dive beneath the earth’s surface, navigating an intricate cave system. Sadly, there is more than jagged rocks or high waterfalls to contend with. There are also vicious and bald creatures.
The truncated American ending is pretty standard, with protagonist Sarah Carter escaping the cave. Then she drives down the road until the movie ends with a fear of the standard jump. The British end is much better, as the impact of this fear of jumping is reversed. Instead of being just one last scare, it’s actually Carter’s hallucination. She’s still in the cave and the creatures will be on top of her in seconds.
6 Amy Dunne is not gone as much as she is hiding – Gone Girl (2014)
David Fincher’s upcoming thriller film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel, Missing girl, follows the same rhythms as the original work. However, for those who hadn’t read Flynn’s book, the film’s turn came as a major shock.
Rosamund Pike plays the role of Amy Dunne with clinical efficiency. The public never doubts that not only is she able to come up with her plan, but she is also able to carry it out. The framing of Nick’s Amy (Ben Affleck) doesn’t go as planned, but that’s only because she’s sloppy. Before revealing that she is in fact alive, riding a freeway, the public is convinced that she is really gone.
5 The Promising Sacrifice of the Promising Young Woman – Promising Young Woman (2020)
The fate of Cassie Thomas in Promising young woman is a punch. Carey Mulligan wears the movie extremely well, so her character’s death is a moment that forces the viewer to rewind the movie to make sure they’ve seen what they’ve seen.
It is a narrative turning point which is also poignant. Maybe the public didn’t see it coming, but Thomas did, and it’s one last major stab at the despicable men who sexually assaulted his friend from med school. Plus, the fact that Ryan Cooper (Bo Burnham) is a spectator of the assault is also a shock.
4 Charlie Dies – Hereditary (2018)
Ari Aster’s horror thriller Hereditary is rarely predictable, and the death of 13-year-old Charlie is a prime example. Heavily featured in the marketing materials, audiences had reason to believe Charlie would last until at least the third act.
Instead, Charlie dies quickly and horribly in the first one. It’s an incredibly tense scene that begins with anaphylactic shock. The viewer has the impression that Charlie’s older brother Peter will get him to the emergency room on time. Her struggle to breathe is palpable and the viewer doesn’t think she is sticking her head out the window. Then, in an instant, she is beheaded by a telephone pole. It’s a time when every spectator realizes that all bets are off.
3 Bruce is a Ghost – The Sixth Sense (1999)
Featuring several of M. Night Shyamalan’s 10 best written characters, The sixth sense also has a twist which is the stuff of cinematic legend.
Even though the ending is widely publicized, it works flawlessly in the film. Cole’s Doctor being a ghost himself should be scary, but it’s actually a reinforcement that the things that terrorize him aren’t all bad. They suffer just like Cole. Additionally, given that the film was released during Bruce Willis’ heyday in the 1990s, no one considered the fact that the A-Lister character could die, let alone that he died during the years. Last 120 minutes.
2 The Identity of the Mother – Psycho (1960)
Back when psychopath was released, there was no way the public could guess Norman Bates was taking his mother’s place. It’s a narrative that couldn’t be shown in modern movies due to a developing social landscape.
For the time, however, and even still, psychopathThe end of is masterful. Bates shows no real signs of psychopathology throughout the film, and audiences were by no means prepared for his existence to be fictitious. Instead, it wasn’t Norman Bates’ mother who killed Marion Crane in the shower, but rather Bates himself. Plus, Bates’ descent into the cellar dressed like his mother is so perfectly timed that that’s just one of the reasons why psychopath is the greatest thriller ever to be made.
1 What’s in the box? – Se7en (1995)
“What’s in the box?!” has become an iconic line, and even those who haven’t seen the David Fincher film probably know the answer. The casting of Kevin Spacey (a popular star at the time) as John Doe was itself a twist, especially given the exclusion of his name from the opening credits.
However, it is the contents of the box that make Se7en a surprising and unsettling experience even after the credits have passed. By putting Tracy Mills’ head in this box, Doe completed her master plan in a way that could not have been predicted by either viewers or the characters. When Brad Pitt’s Detective David Mills sobs, pistol shaking in hand, the audience feels their pain.
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