Sunday, April 10, 2016

Top 10 Plot Twists (pt. 3)

I hear the call of the sirens. It’s time to return to a theme I can’t seem to stay away from, and scribble down a third list of crazy, brilliant plot twists that electrified my poor little brain. (Here are the first and second such lists for reference.) Do I really need to include a spoiler warning this time? We know the routine. Speaking of which, I always mention Game of Thrones in my intro, and this year will bring us the first season that is not based on the original novels...which means I have no goddamn clue what’s going to happen and can no longer react with insufferable superiority to each shocking development. So maybe Sansa is having Drogon’s baby and maybe Melisandre will resurrect Jon Snow but he’ll believe he’s a Mexican street performer and charge into battle wielding dual maracas, who the fuck knows? Let’s talk about some epic twists that have happened already.



Black Mirror: Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Fucking Black Mirror, guys...I can’t think of a recent sci-fi show that’s so well-executed and also so pessimistic about human nature. Each episode shows a future where we’ve fucked up somehow. I’d say the nastiest (in a good way) is “White Bear,” in which an amnesiac named Victoria awakens to find that civilization has crumbled and most people have either turned into murderous psychos à la The Purge, or silent, passive zombies who film everything on their phones. Victoria runs. The psychos chase her. The zombies film away. Is it a commentary on our chronic disconnection from violence? Yes and no. In the end, we learn that Victoria is a convicted child murderer. Her punishment is to experience the same “horror movie” every day and have her memory wiped each evening. The psychos are actors and the zombies are normal tourists enjoying their day in a theme park devoted to Victoria’s suffering. “We’d never be so cruel, even to a child killer!” you protest. Oh yes we fucking would, and Black Mirror has the balls to show us.

Bloom County: Rosebud is Female, Just Because
Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County is my favorite newspaper comic of all time, and (despite the reboot) we shall not see its like again. A stellar example of its bonkers meta-humor: in response to complaints that the strip lacked women, Breathed sent his talking animals into a tizzy when Spuds MacKenzie (yes, that Spuds MacKenzie) revealed that one of them was secretly female. Could it be Opus the notably effete penguin? Portnoy and Hodgepodge the douchey woodland brobags? Bill the Cat?! Nope, it turned out to be Rosebud the phlegmatic basselope, a character whose Eeyore-like asexuality made “him” the perfect pick. What I found funniest was how arbitrary it all seemed; Rosebud’s abrupt gender-swap could only be Breathed’s middle finger to his overly PC critics. Then Rosebud hooked up with Hodgepodge the rabbit and they had creepy hybrid babies together. God, why do female characters always need a love interest?

The Cabin in the Woods: Unleash ALL the Monsters!
Speaking of meta! If you haven’t seen The Cabin in the Woods, you may still know the gist: young folks are trapped in your typical horror movie scenario, only the slashes and shocks are orchestrated by a gang of Dilberts in an underground control center. That’s the first twist of many. I won’t spoil all the details, but the film reaches a level of ironic brilliance toward the end, when the Final Girl and the Lovable Stoner find their way backstage and discover an entire caged zoo of horror movie baddies, any and every monster you can think of, all awaiting their turn to shine. So what do our heroes do? They open all the cages, of course. And the resulting carnage is too wonderful to put into words. Seeing somebody get impaled by a pissed-off unicorn? Priceless. Witnessing the icky payoff to one man’s mermaid fetish? Even more priceless. If I told you the film ends with additional plot twists and a last-minute celebrity cameo, would you just go watch the damn thing already?

Countdown: The Wrong Chosen One
In the 90s, we sure did love dark, brooding YA series. One example is Daniel Parker’s Countdown, which pounced on our Y2K fears: a virus kills off everyone on Earth except teens, who find themselves in a biblical End-of-Days scenario. Crucial among the subplots is a girl named Sarah who possesses a mystical scroll which prophesizes everything that’s going on. The scroll describes the exploits of a “Chosen One” and her enemy, the Demon Lilith. Sarah realizes the prophecies refer to her and she’s the Chosen One, while another girl, Jezebel, appears to be the Demon. In the end, Sarah and Jezebel kill each other...only it’s not the end, because there’s still a couple books to go. Huh? Turns out a completely different protagonist, Ariel, was the Chosen One the whole time, her BFF Leslie was the Demon, and all the prophesies, with their conveniently vague phrasing, referred to them just as easily. Is it contrived? Yes. Did it make me beat myself up for missing all the obvious clues and foreshadowing? Absolutely yes.

Final Destination 5: The Plane! The Plane! It’s the Plane!
I wasn’t expecting a cool last-minute twist from the fifth entry in a series about people getting murdered by weight machines and laundry cords. Not only was 2011’s Final Destination 5 surprisingly awesome, it brought the series full circle. We have our alleged happy ending, with the hero and his girlfriend hopping a plane to Paris. Only, who are those idiots having a fight several rows down? Why is that kid yelling about a crash? Is that...Devon Sawa? You bet your boots. The final stinger is that FD5 takes place in the year 2000 and ends with the same plane crash we witnessed in the very first Final Destination film. And it’s not a sloppy or nonsensical twist: watch the movie carefully and you’ll see that all the technology is over a decade old. The truth was right there, but we were too busy laughing at the guy getting skewered on the rotisserie spit. I guess if you’re gonna snuff your leads at the last minute, you find a way to do it with flair.

Hannibal: Dr. du Maurier’s Fateful Referral
Hannibal is chock full of shocking plot developments. I had to base my choice on which twist really dazzled me, and since I found Dr. Bedelia du Maurier (Gillian Anderson) such a fascinating character, I was most enamored with her arc. Why is she drawn to Hannibal Lecter, like a moth darting close to an inferno? We learn early on that she once killed a patient in self-defense -- a patient who had previously been Lecter’s, and who Lecter deliberately infected with madness to see what du Maurier would do. And we sense that du Maurier, on some level, enjoyed killing, or at least found it intriguing. She’s such an enigma, and over the course of the show, we get one puzzle piece after another. But we don’t see the big picture until the final fragment slots into place. The defining flashback, which all others have teasingly circled. That’s when we learn that it was never self-defense. Du Maurier’s patient never attacked her at all. She straight-up murdered him in cold blood. This revelation made me immediately want to go back and study her calm face, her hint of a smirk, her every soft intake of breath. Knowing that she’s not Hannibal Lecter’s victim, but a member of his tribe.

Monsters: Beginning at the (Unhappy) End
The skillful Monsters wastes no time in catching our attention. A strip of North America has been invaded by towering, octopoid alien creatures, and in the film’s opening scene, we witness a squad of soldiers assaulted by said aliens while civilians scream and bodies litter the ground. It’s just a meaningless hook, right? After all, most of the film is a slow-paced, meditative affair, as a man and a woman hike through the Infected Zone and develop a gradual bond. They discover the aliens are hardly mindless, and by the end, the idea of returning to their boring old lives holds little joy. They’re sharing a secret that most of us are too afraid to see. A squad of soldiers comes to rescue them, we hear one dude’s annoying, familiar riff on “Ride of the Valkyries,” and we realize we’ve looped back to the beginning. The first scene was the last scene, and those were our protagonists lying dead and screaming in the middle of the carnage. Because happy endings are for the weak, especially when We Are The Real Monsters. See what they did there?

Nostalgia Critic: Don’t Fuck With Mara Wilson
Once again, I should enlighten the non-internet-addicts who have no idea what happened to Mara Wilson. After her stint as a precocious child star in Matilda and others, she pretty much quit acting and has since leveled up to an awesome blogger, tweeter, and fame-deconstructor. I learned about her coolness upgrade in the best possible way, when e-comedian Doug Walker, aka The Nostalgia Critic, did a scathing video review of 1997’s A Simple Wish. Yeah, it was a lousy movie, but it’s still pretty juvenile to single out one actress -- a kid, no less! -- and trash her entire body of work. However, it set up one of the best unexpected payoffs I’ve ever seen, as Mara Wilson her actual self appeared onscreen to get revenge on Walker by showing a montage of his hideously embarrassing teenage home movies. She not only proved that she can still act, but that she’s got an A-one sense of humor and is in no way hung up on her child star days. Who could have seen this “celebrity cameo” coming? It didn’t make my day, it made my year.

A Perfect Getaway: Our Heroes are Murderous Lying Murderers Who Lie and Murder
A skillful twist can elevate mediocre material. Don’t get me wrong, A Perfect Getaway is a tense and competent thriller, but I wouldn’t remember much about it if not for its climactic switcheroo. It’s about a derpy honeymooning couple (Milla Jovovich and Steve Zahn) who befriend a far edgier, more badass duo (Timothy Olyphant and Kiele Sanchez) in the Hawaiian wilderness, right when some psycho is murdering in the area. There’s also a third couple, but they’re so sketchy and suspicious that they’re obviously a red herring. However, the truth is staring us in the gob the whole time. There’s nothing like seeing horror dawn on someone’s face (Kiele Sanchez’s, as she studies the photos on Milla Jovovich’s camera) and realizing how misled you were. Yes, the killers are Jovovich and Zahn, who murdered the real honeymooners and assumed their identities. First you get mad, then you go back through the film and realize that the clues were always there, that certain lines of dialogue had more than one meaning, and that even the opening wedding footage was edited to point you in the wrong direction. That, dear readers, is how you make a thriller thrill.

Singularity: One Short Night Equals One Long-Ass Year
Well, here’s another good example of terrible YA cover art. Based on this cover, you’d think you were about to read “James Marsden and His Clone vs. Demon Pac-Man.” Instead, William Sleator’s Singularity is an intelligent, fascinating little tale about a pair of twins who, while housesitting, discover that a backyard shed contains a wormhole to somewhere else. Time moves much faster inside, and one twin (the jerk) plots to rapidly age himself up so he won’t have to be a twin any more. However, his brother (the narrator) beats him to it. The second act of the book turns into an entirely different tale, a bizarro Hatchet in which our hero spends an entire year inside one small room while only a few hours pass in the outside world. We see his daily routine, his psychological turmoil, how he goes from a hapless teen to a muscular, zen-like survivor. That toothy golf ball on the cover barely features in the actual book; it’s really about something far cooler. Another twist that affected me as a kid and ensured I’d grow up to make lists like this one.

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