Today is April Fool’s Day — a day notorious for pranksters.
It happens at the movies, too, all the time. We’ll be led down one path and suddenly the story makes an about-face. But there are good twists and bad ones, and the line between the two is hotly debated.
In the spirit of the day, here’s a look at some of my favorite (and least favorite) movie twists (and if you haven’t seen any of these films, then WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD).
The best• “The Sixth Sense” (1999) — Some people proudly boast that they saw the twist in M. Night Shyamalan’s creepy mystery coming all along, but I fully bought into the premise of Bruce Willis as a child psychologist who helps a disturbed boy (an amazing Haley Joel Osment) who — say it with me — sees dead people. And whaddya know? He really does.
• “Brazil” (1985) — Terry Gilliam’s fantastical futuristic fantasy follows a bureaucrat (Jonathan Pryce) who tries to correct an administrative error and instead finds himself an enemy of the state. But just when we think he’s escaping and that happiness will prevail — it, uh, doesn’t.
• “The Crying Game” (1992) — Neil Jordan’s complicated drama follows Fergus (Stephen Rea), an Irish Republican Army volunteer who contacts Dil (Jaye Davidson), a hairdresser and the lover of a British soldier he once held captive. An unlikely friendship builds between Fergus and Dil, and then an unlikely romance. But Fergus is hiding a few things from Dil, and Dil is hiding one thing in particular from Fergus.
• “Psycho” (1960) — A woman (Janet Leigh) steals $40,000 from her employer and winds up at the Bates Motel during her getaway, where she meets Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), a taxidermy nut who has some slight Oedipal issues.
• “Memento” (2000) — In a story brilliantly told in reverse chronological order, we follow a man (Guy Pearce) who suffers from short-term memory loss as he hunts for the man he thinks killed his wife. But when it all comes together at the end, we find that we’re really just at the beginning.
• “The Usual Suspects” (1995) — Bryan Singer’s twisty crime tale follows the interrogation of Roger “Verbal” Kint (Oscar winner Kevin Spacey), a small-time con man who recounts events that led him and four other criminals to be linked to a mysterious mob boss known as Keyser Soze. The ultimate reveal is revelatory, and not-so-usual at all.
The worst• “The Village” (2004) — One of the most unnecessary story twists ever, and one that writer/director M. Night Shyamalan didn’t let a little thing like logic stop him from doing. I’ll admit, the plot had promise, about a small, isolated country village whose inhabitants have an alliance with mysterious creatures living in a forest that surrounds them. But it was ruined when Shyamalan revealed the “truth” about the village, and the film wastes a captivating performance by then-newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard.
• “The Happening” (2008) — Oh, M. Night Shyamalan. You should seriously consider letting someone else read your scripts before you shoot them. Here, he has a hilarious, awful Mark Wahlberg as a high school science teacher who takes his family on the run when strange ecological events happen. Ooooh, how scary! Mother Nature has never been so unthreatening.
• “Planet of the Apes” (2001) — I guess director Tim Burton had to pull something out of his pocket to surprise us in his reworking of the Charlton Heston classic, but his final shot of Abe Lincoln with ape-like features is just dopey, and the ultimate letdown in a limp remake.
• “High Tension” (2003) — This was a chilling, taut thriller following two college friends named Marie and Alexa who encounter loads of trouble (and blood) while on vacation in the country, and discover that a mysterious killer is stalking them. But then we find out the big twist and feel completely ripped off — just like the decapitated head in the movie.