Friday, 12 March 2010

Film: Films with Twists


This is a disclaimer to prevent being hypercritical.

This post is about films with twists and the importance of not knowing the existence of the twist. If you don’t won’t the twists of a handful of films spoilt, you are advised to ignore the post after paragraph 4.

Thank you.

I just wanted to make that clear, so-

Narrative twists and shock endings, when pulled off with finesse, are precious tools: they can make-or-break a film; they can make you want to re-watch a film; or deliver a satisfying feeling as the carpet is suddenly pulled from beneath you.

But should a film contain a twist or a shock ending, no matter how great it is and no matter how excited one is about sharing it, it must be kept a secret.

Knowledge of the twist must be treated like a good hand in a game of poker: keep it tight to your chest, bluff and keep schtum.

If the viewer knows there's a twist or a shock ending they'll try and figure it out and they might figure it out. Even if they don’t figure it out the film won't really take them by surprise because the ‘surprise twist’ has become an expected occurrence; more of a damp squib, especially if they've concocted half a dozen better endings which, after all, they've had the time to do.
Critics often set a bad example by using the phrase 'its got a killer twist', which is a good selling point and provides the potential viewer with a challenge, though much to the detriment of the twist's impetus.

Shockingly, in Mark Kermode’s Sight and Sound review of Ringu (1998) he revealed the film's denouement - one of cinema’s most frightening scenes - which was surprising considering how highly he thought of the film; so why give away such a pivotal moment in a review, Mr Kermode? (I was glad I read his review once I had seen the film.)

In terms of concealing a film's shock ending, I'd argue that the poster campaign for Neil La Bute’s The Wicker Man (2006) was far more effective than the 1973 original (though the same can’t be said for the film) by omitting the eponymous 'wicker man', therefore leaving what the title refers to to the viewer’s imagination, until the final reel.

The shock of the original The Wicker Man’s final moments remain effective but surely the final reel would have had its shock factor raised a few notches if the poster didn't give away what the eponymous wicker man was.

For me the best way to watch a film is to know as little about it as possible. The less I know about its plot, set-pieces, dialogue, even the milieu the better; I want the first viewing to be as fresh as possible.

This means avoiding previews. I find it best to stick to teaser trailers (if possible). Previews show too much, flaunting the film's best moments - although to be fair, previews are better than they used to be in that they run at such a break neck speed much of the action is subliminal, unlike earlier previews.
A good example of a teaser trailer that offers only the slightest flavour - but enough of a flavour for you to take the bait - is Christopher Nolan's Inception (2010), see it here.

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