The Scourge of Movie Twists

I don’t know about you, but I hate movie twists.

It’s not the idea of a twist ending that bugs me. It’s that nine times out of ten, when a movie has one, the filmmakers make the twist the entire raison d’être of the production. Instead of concentrating on telling an interesting story that stands on its own, you can practically hear them thinking, Boy, we’re gonna get them good! The audience will never see it coming!

That’s more or less the case of all of M. Night Shyamalan’s films, as well as famous twists such as The Crying Game, Primal Fear, and Memento. The story is beside the point–you’re there for the twist.

That’s not universally true, of course. There are great movies that incorporate twists. The Usual Suspects, for instance. There’s a twist at the end of The Dark Knight Rises, where the audience learns that Miranda Tate is actually Talia al Guhl. But in both of those stories, the twist is just the cherry on top. The Usual Suspects is about a character named Kaiser Soze—the reveal that you’ve been talking to him from the opening credits doesn’t change anything. And in The Dark Knight Rises, the Talia al Guhl twist is only vaguely tangential to the real story, which is a meditation on whether or not Western Liberalism can survive its own decadence.

So what’s the difference between a good twist and a bad one? First, the twist has to be earned. It can’t come out of left field. When a twist is executed correctly, your first thought shouldn’t be surprise, but comprehension. A good twist feels like tumblers falling into place on a lock–it doesn’t cause confusion, but resolution. It makes everything that came before it make more sense.

I have a simple test: If a movie is still satisfying on repeat viewings, then the twist works.

This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard


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