Split is over a week old and that’s usually enough to disqualify a movie from coverage here. (This is the policy that keeps me from reviewing Blade 2 every six months in a vain attempt to force it in to the conversation for best superhero movie of all time.) But Split had a secret, and that secret didn’t get out until the movie had released and I had already watched the movie for last week. I’m going to talk about this secret right off the bat so if you have somehow avoided this piece of information I will tell you that Split is an excellent horror movie that might be a bit tame in the sheer terror aspects but is totally worth watching especially if you’ve liked M. Night Shyamalan’s works in the past. From here on it’s spoilers on; stop reading if you want that undisturbed experience.
Friday’s latest plot twist in this year’s Presidential campaign – the announcement that the FBI was reopening its investigation into Hillary’s e-mails based on some suspicious correspondence found on Anthony Weiner’s computer – had all of us spinning our heads like Linda Blair in The Exorcist…sans pea soup vomit, I hope.
Well, none of us knows yet the results of the election – now only eight days away, as the media would say in its annoyingly obsessive countdown – but one more immediate result was that it had me thinking about great fictional plot twists that none of us, or at least most of us, didn’t see coming, the ones that made go Whoa, Nellie!!!!
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Darth Vader: “Obi-wan never told you what happened to your father.”
Luke: “He told me enough. He told me you killed him.
Darth Vader: “No. I am your father.”
Im-not-so-ho, the greatest plot twist ever. Search your hearts, you know it to be true.
Planet of the Apes
Taylor: “Oh, my God. I’m back. All the time, it was…we finally really did it.”
Taylor: “You maniacs! You blew it up! God damn you! God damn you all to hell!”
The original, not the remake. Oh, definitely not the remake.
And definitely the second-best twist ever. Imho, of course. YMMV.
The Sixth Sense
“I see dead people.”
The story of Cole Sear, a boy whose ability to see ghosts has sent him into a deep depression and an alienation from the world and from his desperate mother, and of Dr. Malcolm Crowe, the child psychologist who tries to help him, is a film whose plot twist totally sent the public’s head spinning – some people may have vomited pea soup from some of the gorier and emotionally upsetting scenes – in 1999.
The beauty of the film is M. Night Shyamalan’s writing and direction, for as an audience we became involved in the story unfolding before our eyes, which on the surface was a modern-day family drama with some, uh, creepier aspects, and totally missed the clues so beautifully woven into the storyline and superb cinematography of Tak Fujimoto – the color red, absent from movie’s pallet except when the “afterlife” is intersecting with our world; the drop in temperature whenever a ghost is around (Cole’s mother complains about the house being cold, we can see Cole’s breath in the red tent when the little girl visits him; Cole’s mother never interacts with her son’s psychologist; and Malcolm never interacts with his environment (touching or moving objects) except around Cole. Well, until the end of the movie, and that red doorknob.
The twist – that Malcom is dead – should also have been as plain as the noses on all our faces when Cole, in the hospital, tells Malcolm “…They only see what they want to see. They don’t know they’re dead.” But we were all so caught up in Cole’s personal trauma that we, collectively, only thought that Malcom was helping Cole by getting him to admit what was at the heart of his, uh, troubles.
Grace: “If you’re dead, then leave us in peace. Leave us in peace!”
Mrs. Mills: “And suppose we do leave you, ma’am, do you suppose that they will?”
Mrs. Mills: “The intruders.”
World War II has ended, and on the Isle of Jersey Grace Stewart and her two children are awaiting the return of her husband from the front. Her daughter Anne insists that she has seen “others” in the house, and when three servants appear on Grace’s doorstep in answer to her advertisement, other strange and creepy occurrences start to happen; curtains are taken down, the piano, dusty and out of tune, is heard being played in perfect resonance, Grace hears voices, and her son reports meeting a boy named Victor who told him that he (Victor) lives there with his family.
The twist: Stricken with grief upon the news of her husband’s death in the war, Grace went mad and smothered her children in their sleep, and then shot herself. Waking up the next morning to find her and the children still alive (the kids are pillow fighting) Grace believes that she has been given another chance by God to prove herself to be a good mother. But the real truth is that it is Grace, her children, and her servants who have been haunting the current occupants of the house – Victor and his family. It is they who took down the curtains, who played the piano, whose voices were heard by Grace. The family leaves the house, unable to exorcise Grace and her children, and as they drive off, we see Grace and the children watching them from a window as Grace promises the children that they will never leave their home.
Other great movies with great plot twists not seen coming include:
“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”
Evelyn Mulwray reveals to Jake Gittes that her sister is actually her daughter; she has had an incestuous relationship with her father, Noah Cross.
The Usual Suspects:
“Who is Keyser Soze? He is supposed to be Turkish. Some say his father was German. Nobody believed he was real. Nobody ever saw him or knew anybody that ever worked directly for him, but to hear Kobayashi tell it, anybody could have worked for Soze. You never knew. That was his power. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And like that, poof. He’s gone.”
Keyser Soze is Verbal Kint.
Martin Vail: “So there never… there never was a Roy?”
Roy: “Jesus Christ, Marty. If that’s what you think, I am disappointed in you, I don’t mind telling you. There never was an Aaron… counselor! Come on, Marty, I thought you had it figured, there at the end. The way you put me on the stand like that? That was fucking brilliant, Marty! And that whole thing like “act-like-a-man”? Jesus, I knew exactly what you wanted from me. It was like we were dancing, Marty!”
Aaron Stamper never existed, never had multiple personality disorder. It was always Roy.
Let me know what you think. Is Empire’s reveal better than Planet of the Apes? What have I left off the list? Did you guess the twists before they occurred, or did you just “say” you did around the water cooler?
It’s frustrating watching a movie where the direction is so far and away better than the script it’s stuck with. This is an infinitely more frustrating problem when the director and the writer are the same person but such is the case with M. Night Shyamalan’s latest effort The Visit. It’s a fine movie, it’s definitely a scary movie, and it’s sometimes a funny movie but not as often as it wants to be but it sort of feels like a bunch of great parts struggling to make a coherent sum. Despite these frustrations The Visit is a credible start to the fall horror movie season and a kind of fitting latest entries into the catalogue of one of Hollywood’s most maddening auteurs.
The story of The Visit is rather simple and I don’t mean that as a slight, the more complicated your horror movie plot gets the closer you are to becoming the later Nightmare on Elm Street films. Two teenagers (young teenagers it should be noted not slasher movie teens) go to visit their estranged grandparents and then thing literally start going bump in the night. The kids try to play detective and are generally bad at being detectives because they’re kids but it helps the film bounce from tense set piece to tense set piece which is good fun. All of the solutions to problems seem to fall from the sky instead of developing but I’m willing to let that go for an effective scary time.
I’m not entirely sure what’s so intrinsically terrifying about The Visit but whatever it is it works for me. Maybe it’s the empathy I feel for children being sent to a strange house, I never much cared to stay with relatives, the space always felt a little uneasy. Maybe it’s just a general fear of strangers or unease around the elderly, especially older people who are clearly not doing as well. It might just be as simple as dark places and sudden noises, the Paranormal Activity special if you will. I’m not 100% sure why but I haven’t been as uncomfortable watching a scary movie in a theater in years. The last movie that made me so uneasy, that made me watch the movies through the corners of my eyes as I stared at the wall of the theater was Mama two and a half years ago. I can’t put my finger on why The Visit was so scary but it was dreadfully so, perhaps so much that I struggle to recommend it.
The Visit is, through and through, an M. Night Shyamalan movie and I firmly believe the hate has gone too far on Shyamalan in the last few years. It’s been a while since he’s put out a good movie but that’s a deficiency of M. Night Shyamalan the screenwriter and not M. Night Shyamalan the director. Shyamalan is an excellent visual storyteller and he consistently gets solid performances out of his actors (with the exception of himself) and The Visit is no exception in that regard. It might be a little too cute to have Rebecca as an aspiring filmmaker call out the techniques Shyamalan will later use to attempt to terrify the audience but I can forgive a couple slightly flat jokes if it otherwise delivers and The Visit does. I also quite enjoyed Shyamalan playing with audience expectations with regards to plot twists. I know that one is coming (really the narrative here demands it as something must be amiss) but because it’s Shyamalan I’m looking at everything, grasping at every straw, so when the twist in this movie is a little simpler I didn’t see it coming at all. It’s good work from a good filmmaker and it’s probably time to stop demanding he constantly live up to the excellence of The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable, that isn’t going to happen.
And so the cycle continues. The Visit quadrupled its budget at the box office this weekend so, barring catastrophe, Shyamalan will be back with another movie in a year or so and we’ll all be back here again with jokes about twist endings and how disappointed we all were with Lady in the Water and, unless it’s another After Earth, it’ll probably be a well-directed film that doesn’t quite have a script up to that effort. Hollywood really is out of new ideas.