August 10, 2005


We've all seen it before. You go to a theater or rent a DVD and choose a movie that you may not have heard much about - but someone you know recommends it. You're intrigued. You sit down in a theater or your living room to watch it and as the plot unfolds, you start to ask yourself where the plot is going or you start to wonder if you missed something along the way. But you're hooked. You deal with the confusion because things start to get a little clearer towards the end. And then - BAM! - a twist ending smacks you in the face and you end up sitting there in the theater or in your favorite recliner with this dumbstruck look on your face thinking "WTF?". After a while, you get your bearings and think back over the whole film with this new information and you come to the conclusion that what you just saw was absolutely brilliant. And you can't wait to recommend it to someone else.

Personally, I love these kinds of movies - if they're done well, that is. A lot of people felt this way about "The Sixth Sense" (although I had the ending spoiled for me, dammit!). Some people hate these movies. Why? I dunno. Maybe because they have to actually think about it. Or maybe they feel cheated. A lot of people don't react well to being fooled or surprised like that. Whatever.

If you're like me, though. And these kinds of movies get you going. I've got three to recommend (in no particular order). So read on. (If not, go see what the latest is on Drudge).

1) Frailty - A first-time direction effort by Bill Paxton in which he also stars, he did a pretty darn good job on this one. The story opens with Matthew McConaughey's character being interviewed by an FBI agent played by Powers Booth. The story is told in flashback format as McConaughey recounts how he knows the identity of a serial killer. The killer, he says, is his brother. And the story is from their childhood, which explains why he is doing the killing. Basically, his father - played by Paxton - gets a dream one night in which he is visited by an angel who gives him a list of names and tells him that these people are actually "demons" inhabiting human bodies. The angel tells the father that it is his mission to kill these demons. So he enlists the help of his two sons in his efforts. McConaughey's character - the older brother - is skeptical of the dream and believes his dad has lost his mind, while the younger brother buys into the madness. What is even more gut-wrenching is that the father is a decent guy who really believes he is doing divine work. You don't dislike him, but you can't believe what he's doing.

Anyway by the end of the film, the plot turns and the ending grabs you by the nuts and doesn't let go. By the time the credits roll, you'll find yourself saying "WTF?".

2) Identity - This film is kind of a more psychological version of the classic Agatha Christie story "And Then There Were None..." Ten strangers find themselves stranded at a Nevada motel during a nasty thunderstorm. The roads are washed away and the phone lines are down (and of course there isn't very good cell service in the area). One by one each of the characters are murdered and the panic and finger-pointing begins. John Cusack leads an excellent cast that features such actors as Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet and Rebecca De Mornay. The story also switches back and forth to a hearing called at the last minute to discuss the fate of a convicted murderer who is scheduled for execution the next day. The defense team is trying to present evidence that they believe was suppressed in the trial. Oh and one of the "guests" at the motel happens to be an escaped murderer. You just don't know who. The people at the motel are dropping like flies. Alliances are formed, and broken. And the characters you think might be the killer end up getting killed themselves.

Anyway the story has an unexpected ending that makes you see the whole story from a completely different perspective. And yes, you'll end up sitting there, saying "WTF?"

3) Memento - Of the three movies, this is the one people will either love or hate. It opens with the ending and follows the story backwards to the beginning. Huh? Yes you heard that right. It's like giving the punchline first and then telling the joke - working your way back. The ending doesn't mean a whole helluva lot since you don't have any other information. Trust me on this one. I know you're probably already saying "WTF?" but it does work. It's about an insurance claim adjuster named Leonard who lost his short-term memory from a head injury he got at the time his wife was murdered. His quest is to find the killer but the only way he can retain the information he finds through his investigation is to take a bunch of polaroids (as "mementos") and to literally tattoo the info all over his body so it won't wash off. The story is told as a series of future episodes in reverse order. These episodes are interspersed with a telephone conversation Leonard is having in his motel room in which he compares his current state to that of a client whose claim he once dealt with. As the story is told, Leonard has no idea who to trust and we find that at certain points he is being manipulated by people who are aware of his disability.

The ending is a surprise more because of the new light in which we see the now-complete story. And it's a doozy. Whether you end up liking it or not you will definitely find yourself muttering "WTF?" for days afterward.

So go out and rent these babies if you haven't already seen them. And one other thing. It is critical that you watch them with someone else because chances are you'll need another point of view to help you straighten everything out. Avoid all spoilers before viewing! Enjoy

Cross-posted at Ex-Donkey Blog

Posted by Gary at August 10, 2005 09:46 AM | TrackBack

There were all excellent. Does anyone have any recommendations for any other movies?

Posted by: Kirk at August 10, 2005 10:12 AM

I've always loved "No Way Out." An oldie but a goodie -- it made me fall in love with "twist" movies.

Posted by: sarah at August 10, 2005 12:23 PM

I'd add "The Usual Suspects" to that list.

Posted by: Brian B at August 10, 2005 12:50 PM

I enjoyed "Frailty", but "Identity" didn't really do it for me. Don't get me wrong, it's a good movie and all that, but "Frailty" was better. I fell asleep about halfway through "Memento", and never rented it again to find out how it ends. I guess I'll have to either rent it again someday or catch it on Encore.

"The Usual Suspects" is "da bomb". That's an example of one of the best types of twist you see in movies. One that isn't a totally improbable "deus ex machina", but can be seen through subtle foreshadowing. I remember being able to figure out the twist ending in "Scream 2" by saying to myself "hmmmm, she's too good of an actress to have a throwaway walkon role, so she must be the real killer."

Posted by: Russ from Winterset at August 10, 2005 03:10 PM

"Twelve Monkeys" was interesting, plot-wise. It was a remake of a minimalist French film called "La Jetee," but the remake had Terry Gilliam's baroque touches. I'd also throw in "Fight Club" as a movie where I didn't see the plot twist coming, although in retrospect it was nicely foreshadowed.

Posted by: utron at August 10, 2005 03:37 PM

Second Twelve Monkeys and Fight Club. I thought Memento was excellent - a truly original premise, daring storyline and cool plot twist.

You mentioned The Sixth Sense, so how could you leave out "Unbreakable"? I'll admit that when I went to see this movie, I was expecting something very different, probably because of the way it was advertised, and the first time I saw it I thought it moved a little slow. I've seen it a couple of times since then and it is one of my all-time favorites, and has a hell of a plot twist. Shamylan is awesome.

Posted by: John from WuzzaDem at August 10, 2005 06:14 PM

The movie Jacob's Ladder perfectly fits the description you gave. The whole time you have no idea what's going on, because it's just so bizarre, and then at the very end you get one piece of information and everything becomes clear. It's a crazy movie.

Posted by: Sobek at August 10, 2005 07:57 PM

I saw "11:14" the other night and it fits in this genre. I still haven't decided whether it was good or not, I'm not sure if I ever will. I'll watch it again someday but I already know that seeing it again won't settle it for me. It's that strange.

Posted by: bullwinkle at August 10, 2005 09:36 PM

How could I forget Jacob's Ladder??

Way to go, SobekMeister. The scene where he wakes up in the cold tub literally made me jump.

Posted by: John from WuzzaDem at August 11, 2005 04:47 PM

What about Primal Fear? I think that should be on the list. And Secret Window.

Posted by: melthebestest at August 25, 2005 07:36 PM

Cant forget 'Punch Drunk Love' with Adam Sandler. Wtf was he thinking?

Posted by: zoidburg at August 27, 2005 01:32 AM
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