People love a good twist ending. When it’s good, it’s The Sixth Sense. When it’s bad, it’s most of the Shyamalan films that followed. But now twists aren’t just shocking flips of plot that viewers don’t see coming. They’re also those moments where a feature defies one of Hollywood’s many conventions.
These days, the courage of conviction rings sweeter than the slickly planned twist. It’s exhilarating to watch filmmakers follow their plan to the end (for good or bad), and it’s promising that they were allowed to do so and not curtailed by a system that wants things just so. (Consider the original plan for Heathers, which would’ve seen everyone die and get a happy ending in Prom Heaven.) Sometimes it’s as simple as fighting the rampant desire for a happy ending and letting characters be miserable or die, and other times it’s daring to not kill anyone at all.
Every time I see the trailer for Sex Tape, I find myself hungry for the unexpected. I fear actually seeing the film because in my head, Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel spend half the movie trying to stop people from seeing their sex tape, and then they realize they’re actually closet exhibitionists and don’t care. Even if completely random and absurd, that would beat barreling toward a conclusion that’s obvious from the first trailer.
In the meantime, I’ll have these films (and one television show) to sate my unexpected hunger. Beware, the ends of films will be discussed and therefore spoiled.
A Good Old-Fashioned Orgy
It really didn’t seem like A Good Old-Fashioned Orgy would actually make good on its title. Jason Sudeikis plays one of Hollywood’s quintessential manboys who runs from responsibility and wants nothing more from life than good times at his father’s Hamptons vacation home. When Dad decides to sell, the guy decides an orgy is in order, as the most epic of party send-offs.
While his friends look at him with a mix of awe and horror, it seems like the comedy could focus on how the manchild learns this is a bad idea. Instead, his friends slowly start to agree, and he finds a way to grow up while also celebrating one of the favorite elements (parties) from his youth. While far from perfect, the fact Orgy completely defied my expectations is enough to make me revisit now and then for a little taste of irresponsible nostalgia.
The World’s End
Heroic battles against otherworldly evils come with the expectation of success. The good guys must persevere, and though they might die (not likely), they will save the day … unless we’re talking about Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s The World’s End.
The heroes drink, they discover the world is overrun by aliens and they refuse to assimilate, which kicks off the Apocalypse. Of course, Gary (Pegg) finds his own happiness as an adventurer, but it’s a random happy slice of a terrible wasteland – one that not only bites its thumbs at convention, but also leaves much food for thought about youth, age and happiness.
The film’s plot alone is habit-defying, giving bottle episodes a run for their money with the story of Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds), a man buried alive for the entire movie. Armed with a phone that somehow gets reception, there is the possibility — nay almost certainty — that he will get out (even if he doesn’t have the scientific know-how of the folks from Bones). He isn’t buried alive and forgotten about; he’s buried with a lifeline that connects with people who can help him.
But they fail, and the danger is real, rather than something to fill the 95-minute runtime.
All About Steve
All About Steve might be the most mind-boggling film of all time. In every way, it’s an exercise against expectation. It’s a wholly unique mix of smarts and stupidity that allowed Sandra Bullock to win a Razzie the night before she won an Oscar (and made history with the one-two punch). It’s a terrible film that’s listed as one of the worst of the aughts, but also one that pulls out a killer message at the end.
After Bullock’s Mary becomes obsessed with Bradley Cooper, loses her job over him and decides to stalk him, she then realizes she went overboard. The stalker not only learns her lesson, but she also drops some wise words of wisdom many Hollywood films could use: “If you love someone, set him free. If you have to stalk him, he probably wasn’t yours in the first place.” If only it, and its star, were matched with a better film.
Requiem for a Dream
Where I was rendered speechless by Twin Peaks, this is the film that rendered my friends speechless. In fact, I had to stop showing it to people because of the rampant catatonia it created.
Many films have been darker, and more shocking, but nothing is so realistically bleak as Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.’s dark novel. Rather than just a manifestation of extremes, the ending of Requiem for a Dream strives to push its characters into multiple stages and expressions of sadness and loneliness that invoke harsh realities and desperate dream worlds that could never be. There is no happy ending. Not one character is left smiling, ready to face cinema’s usual bright new day.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2
Stephenie Meyer’s vampire series isn’t most people’s cup of tea, but I admire the ending as it plays in the novel and how Bill Condon adapted it for the film. On the page it’s anticlimactic, the sad result of a writer who wrote her logic into a corner. But there’s also something fun about creating a scenario with no deus ex machina that makes it all right. Sure, someone shows up precisely when he’s needed, but being guided by a woman who can see the future, it’s not really a shock, and the danger persists.
The shock comes from Condon’s treatment, which so cleverly gave us the pulp massacre many were hoping for but that no Twi-hard would ever accept. Meyer had said that there could be no fight because most of the characters would die, so Condon shows this. Character by beloved character are decapitated, ripped apart or sucked into the depths of the earth. It might not be able to happen in reality, but we could at least see how it would happen through the eyes of the woman who sees the future of their actions. Condon managed to honor very different sets of people with very different expectations.
BONUS: Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks isn’t a movie, but with a prequel film attached to the two-season series, and boasting one of the best finales television has ever seen, it’s worthy of an extra spot here.
After Laura Palmer’s killer was found, Twin Peaks quickly lost its way. But no matter how much derision the second season faced, the finale made it worth it. It isn’t, simply, that beloved characters die, or become possessed by Bob. It’s that the show dared to embrace its conceit, rather than replace it with fan service. It’s about a town plagued by evil that cannot be caught by even the slyest FBI agent, with characters so wonderfully reckless, not all of them could make it. It dared to go there, and remains the only ending that’s ever rendered me speechless.