This week marks the DVD and Blu-ray debut of Safe Haven, the critically drubbed Nicholas Sparks adaptation starring that girl from Dancing With the Stars and that dude from the Transformers movies. Normally, this would not be worth noting! But there’s something else that’s special about Safe Haven: it’s got one of the most utterly bananas crazy “twist” endings you’ve ever seen. Ever since The Usual Suspects blew everyone’s mind in ’95, and The Sixth Sense followed suit four years later, moviemakers have been trying their damnedest to create shocking third-act reveals that change everything we’ve seen before, and send us out of the theater reeling. Instead, most of them are befuddling, laughable, or just plain stupid. Here are a few examples (with a rather obvious spoiler alert).
The film: Safe Haven The twist: Secret ghost character!
For most of Safe Haven’s running time, it’s pretty standard, boilerplate Nicholas Sparks stuff: Girl with a sketchy past (Julianne Hough) moves to a small town, falls in love with a handsome dude (Josh Duhamel), and makes a new friend (Cobie Smulders). It all progresses about as you expect, with the boy and the girl falling in love, or what passes for falling in love at the movies (soft music, twinkly montages, cornball dialogue, etc). And then, you find out that our protagonist’s new BFF is a ghost. No, seriously! She’s the dead wife of our girl’s new boyfriend, who considerately stuck around to make sure he found a good one to be his next wife. It’s an out-of-nowhere supernatural twist in what has, to that point, been a very straightforward, realistic bit of storytelling (or as realistic as Sparks gets). “This is one of the most insane twists that I’ve ever seen in a movie,” wrote The Huffington Post’s Mike Ryan. “Not because it’s a great twist, but because it’s so out of left field. Actually, the rather pedestrian notion of ‘left field’ doesn’t do this justice. It’s more out of left of left field — you know, where the ball boy sits waiting for foul balls to scoop up and toss into the stands. It’s as if that guy all of a sudden came up with this twist.”
The film: Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor The twist: He’s literally the devil!
The recent — and valid — kerfuffle over the terrifying sexual politics and insensitive AIDS exploitation in Tyler Perry’s latest bit of hackery itself pivots on a bit of a plot twist: that the evil Internet mogul at the story’s center has AIDS, so all of the hussies who commit infidelity “get theirs” by ending up with AIDS. But, as Jezebel’s Lindy West points out, there’s another ridiculous twist to the tale: said Internet mogul is actually Old Scratch. “You can tell he’s literally the devil,” West explains, “because he says things like, ‘Let me play devil’s advocate,’ he drives a sinful red sports car, everything in his apartment is constantly on fire, and every time Judith’s churchy mom sees him she starts screaming, ‘HE’S THE DEVIL. THAT MAN IS LITERALLY THE DEVIL.’ He is literally the devil.” Nobody ever accused Mr. Perry of subtlety.
The film: The Devil’s Advocate The twist: It was all a dream! (Maybe.)
What is it with Satan and dopey plot twists? In this 1997 thriller, Keanu Reeves (sporting the world’s worst Southern accent) plays a gifted Florida attorney seduced into moving to Manhattan and working for the Devil himself (Al Pacino, doing a bit of scenery chewing). Come to find out, Satan’s not only his boss — he’s his father, and he wants him to mate with his half-sister to create the Antichrist. Believe it or not, that’s not the nutty twist: when Keanu refuses and shoots himself in the head, he wakes up and finds himself back in the bathroom of the Florida courthouse at the beginning of the movie. He imagined it all! Or he got a second chance because he made the moral decision. Or something. Not that it matters — a reporter appears, promising to tell his story and make him a media sensation, and that reporter turns out to be the Devil in another form. And by that reveal, any sensible viewer will wonder what to do with the soft spot on their forehead from all those face-palms.
The film: The Village The twist: It’s actually the present day!
The twist ending of The Sixth Sense was a blessing for writer/director M. Night Shyamalan — it made the movie a must-see buzz hit, prompted wide discussion (and return visits, to check for plot holes), and branded him The Next Big Thing. But it was also his curse, because now he was “the twist guy,” and was expected to always provide a big Gotcha Moment at the end of his films, though they were often unnecessary (Unbreakable), silly (Signs), or insane (The Happening). What people forget about The Sixth Sense is that it was a good movie before the twist ending, intriguing and emotional and superbly acted; his subsequent films often seem reverse-engineered, from the twist ending backward. Frankly, Mr. Shyamalan’s recent efforts could take up a good chunk of this list, but in the interest of variety, let’s pinpoint the moment where public tide turned against him: with 2004’s The Village, which spends most of its running time seeming to present the story of a colonial village haunted by terrifying creatures, before revealing that said village is actually a present-day experiment in communal living, engineered by a group of college professors. It was a turn too flaccid for a below-average Twilight Zone episode, to say nothing of a major motion picture.
The film: Basic The twist: It was all an elaborate ruse!
A reunion of Pulp Fiction stars John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson should have been a cause for celebration. Instead, it prompted angry, put-upon audiences to forget, as quickly as possible, this irritating thriller from Die Hard director John McTiernan, who should’ve known better. The set-up is that Travolta is a DEA agent investigating the disappearance of a drill sergeant (Jackson) and his team during a training exercise, but writer James Vanderbilt (Zodiac) was apparently getting paid by the twist, since he piles on a new one roughly every five minutes. No, come to find out, that guy was lying! And that guy’s still alive! And the guy that’s still alive is lying! When the twist-o-rama finally comes to an end, we discover that the entire operation was an intricately planned fake-out, which Travolta was in on from the beginning. He and Jackson hoist a glass and cheer their victory, and the scene plays like a giant, grinning “Fuck you!” to any audience dumb enough to invest itself in the “narrative.”
The film: Color of Night The twist: They’re the same person!
This dopey 1994 film came at the tail end of Hollywood’s unfortunate “erotic thriller” craze (which began roughly with Fatal Attraction and hit it financial height with Basic Instinct). Bruce Willis plays a troubled psychiatrist whose visit to a colleague (Scott Bakula) turns into a mystery when the friend is brutally murdered. Willis begins a torrid affair with a sexy stranger (Jane March), while taking over Bakula’s therapy group; one of the members is a young man named Richie, who has a stutter and wears a baseball cap and looks an awful lot like a girl. Come to find out, he is: it’s actually Rose, who has a split personality brought on by the suicide of her brother. It’s not just a dumb twist (though it’s certainly that) — it’s also one of the less surprising ones on the list, since poor March is quite lovely, but not quite the caliber of actor required to pull off the double role.
The film: High Tension The twist: She did it herself!
Still, Color of Night’s ending isn’t a cheat — which is more than you can say for High Tension, one of the many “split personality” twisters that followed in the wake of Fight Club. Perfect Stranger and Hide and Seek’s “the good guy/girl is actually the killer” turns required some plot contortions, to be sure, but nothing like those of Alexandre Aja’s 2003 horror thriller, in which a young woman is stalked by a hulking, truck-driving killer who turns out to be… the young woman herself. It’s the worst kind of twist ending, one that causes the entire story to unravel as the viewer immediately seizes on its flaws: how could tiny Marie have dispatched all those people single-handedly? Who was chasing her in all of those scenes? And what about that decapitation/male masturbation scene? (Don’t ask.)
The film: The Number 23 The twist: He did it himself!
Jim Carrey and Joel Schumacher, the team who brought you Batman Forever, tried to indulge their Dark, Edgy Side™ with this laughably convoluted thriller from 2007. In it, Carrey plays an average guy who stumbles across a novel about a character obsessed with the number 23 — which then becomes Carrey’s obsession, since it seems to have so many ties to his own life. He attempts to unravel the book’s mysteries and track down the author, only to discover that (gasp) he wrote the book himself shortly before attempting suicide, only to survive but with amnesia, so of course he didn’t remember that he wrote the book himself. Ain’t them the breaks? Note to screenwriters: if you’re considering writing a thriller with a split personality twist, please watch Adaptation again, and remember how silly The Three sounded.
The film: Remember Me The twist: It’s 9/11!
It’s the old story: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, boy dies in the September 11 attacks. Wait, what? Yes, this warmed-over Nicholas Sparks-ish tale of young romance thwarted at every turn by fuddy-duddy grown-ups takes place in a vaguely 2000-ish, vaguely New York-ish city, which becomes appallingly un-vague in the third act, when the day of Robert Pattinson’s visit to his evil dad’s office is revealed to be 9/11/01, and a pull-away from his office window reveals its placement high in the North Tower. It’s a shockingly tasteless exploitation of a tragedy for a throwaway picture. As Wesley Morris wrote in the Boston Globe, “Its parting images are a shocking sucker punch cynically disguised as a plot twist: If you don’t like these cadaverous people after this revelation, the filmmakers seem to be saying, shame on you… the movie crassly repurposes tragedy to excuse its clichés.”
The film: Planet of the Apes The twist: The apes took over in the past! Somehow!
The original 1968 Planet of the Apes featured one of the all-time great final plot twists (courtesy of the master, screenwriter and Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling): the reveal of a discarded Statue of Liberty on a beach, indicating that the faraway planet where apes evolved from man was, in fact, our own Earth in the future. For Tim Burton’s turgid, ill-conceived, poorly executed 2001 sequel, rehashing that ending simply wouldn’t do, since the original film’s countless sequels and cultural ubiquity would make the shock factor impossible. So when astronaut Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) crash lands in present-day Washington, DC, he discovers that the Lincoln Memorial is now a tribute to General Thade (Tim Roth), the ape he’d just battled in the future. Meaning… Thade traveled back as well, earlier in time? Or it wasn’t the past? Or it was or wasn’t earth? Or what? It wasn’t just audiences who were left scratching their heads; co-star Roth said of the film’s conclusion, “I cannot explain that ending. I have seen it twice and I don’t understand anything.”