There are few things as cinematically precious as the well-executed reveal. It’s the element of surprise, the “oh shit” moment, the communal audible gasp, the flash of true disbelief that leaves you in awe. The best of the best send chills down our spines because we never saw a twist coming in the first place. They hush us up at their mention alone. It was Earth all along, Bates wears a wig, “Luke, I am your father”, Keyser Söze, Dr. Crowe is dead, the Tyler Durden collective, the Alfred Borden deconstructive, the search for Rachel Solando, Rosebud, Briony’s reflective fiction, “What’s in the box?!”, The Game’s apt title, Leonard Shelby’s wife, etc.
Lately, films like Get Out (2017), Arrival (2016), and Gone Girl (2014) have cemented themselves into film history’s finest mind fucks, causing us to think beyond the plot of the film therein (e.g. the history of American race relations or our flawed ability to communicate). Lucky for us, 2018 offered a hefty dose of plot twists that astonished and stunned and sent shockwaves of insider conversations across the Twitterverse. Think of these as nominations for 2018’s entry into the Hall of Cinema’s Great Reveals.
The Logan Marshall-Green vehicle tapped into the fear of the technologically unknown while sustaining audiences with its creative direction and action-thriller ecstasies. This is one of those films that teases an obvious reveal—in this case, the villainy of young blondie—only to expose itself as a much more intelligent film in the finale. Capitalizing on any and all future technology paranoia, writer/director Leigh Whannell villainized the friend inside our friend, the master orchestrator, the chip known as Stem, and in doing so, reminded us that we still aren’t keen to AI’s oft-fictionalized comeuppance.
Avengers: Infinity War
Without a doubt the most popular entry in the field of nominations, Infinity War was sort of a two-parter in regards to reveals. Thanos (Josh Brolin) quite literally broadcasted his intentions to wipe out half the universe once he acquired all infinity stones, but, as always, the expectation was for The Avengers to stop him or somehow be suddenly exempt from the devastation. They didn’t and they weren’t. Now, whether that twist holds any weight is up to your degree of Hollywood cynicism, but in an extended universe where time can be reversed, reality can be altered, and next films are already scheduled and cast, there’s a reasonable two tons of doubt that they are all gone for good. However, the gut-wrenching reveal that Thanos must kill his adopted daughter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), to attain the soul stone comes out of nowhere. It is certainly the heavier and more stunning of the two.
My favorite kind of reveal is the product of slow-burning mystery that shocks, confounds, and leaves room for questions. Alex Garland’s Annihilation is a masterclass example. The film unravels The Shimmer piece-by-piece, never transparent enough (even by the end) to offer simple answers. The film’s ultimate reveal is philosophical in nature but no less juicy for it. The Shimmer might be defeated, or perhaps it has evolved to live beyond its dome-like structure. Perhaps it’s developed a new kind of habitation. The film’s last lines are bone-chilling: “You aren’t Kane…are you?” – “I don’t think so.” – “Are you Lena?”
The only shocking reveal in this year’s batch that doesn’t have criminal or demonic implications, Tully’s surprise is no less gawk-worthy than the rest. Sometimes we need to be stunned into a healthy dose of self-awareness and mundane mental fitness. By the time we realize that the too-good-to-be-true Tully (Mackenzie Davis) is nothing more than a revival of Marlo’s past self, we have trudged through enough emotional baggage to lose control of our jaw and weep all at once. Youth is fleeting, but alternative Tyler Durden reprises are not.
In a film so full of plot twists, it’s hard to narrow down the reveal? Is it when we find out that Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) is still alive and having an affair? Or, when we find out that Harry Rawlings orchestrated the entire operation that killed his partners in crime? Or, when we find out what house the women are robbing? Or, when we realize that fucking Harry Rawlings tricked his wife Veronica (Viola Davis) into the final heist? In the end, it all blends together as one and proves that Gillian Flynn’s twisty Gone Girl screenplay was not a fluke. She is a master of the juicy reveal.
Debatably the most predictable of cinematic reveals that still registered a collective gasp from audiences this year, Searching set itself up to blow our minds or bust. Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) was unsettling from the get-go, but it was mundane enough to chock up to helicopter parenting and workaholism when there wasn’t any overwhelming proof otherwise. But when the realization that Hannah was nothing more than a stock photography actress left theaters speechless, the ruthless, crushing love of a parent swooped in for the kill. Searching is so much more than one reveal. It is a series of reveals, dismissals, false evidence, and re-reveals. More to its credit, the culprit of the crime (Vick’s son) we are so desperate to figure out ends up taking a backseat to the strategic workings of his mother’s sabotage, which is a totally unexpected shift in its own right.
Hereditary wasn’t the only film this year to grant one of its main characters royalty among hell’s elite in a red-tinted worship ceremony in its final minutes (see: Suspiria), but it was definitely the most lauded to do so. The critically acclaimed art horror picture placed a terrifying curse upon a feuding family that got so out of hand it seemed primed for a twist of illusion that boiled it all down to some metaphor for familial friction or the erratic grief that follows a loss. While those themes certainly undergird the film’s developments, Ari Aster took the conclusion in a much more literal direction. Who better than Ann Dowd to be revealed as the occult-obsessive tasked with transitioning the spirit of Paimon, one of the eight kings of hell, from little Charlie to Peter?
“Believe women!” Soderbergh screams at his audiences. No film formed a more apt metaphor for the #MeToo movement’s rage around the disbelief of women who have experienced any kind of sexual trauma while doubling as a metaphor for a broken healthcare system. Though it strings us along from the get-go and gives every reason to doubt each legitimate possible answer, Unsane’s reveal comes nearly halfway through the film and it turns from mind-fuck into B-horror. But the strength of the reveal holds its weight in one of the most suffocating encounters of the year in padded solitary confinement, in which we learn that David Strine (Joshua Leonard) is a sick stalker.
Undoubtedly the least witnessed of the year’s greatest twists, Beast is a constant flux of secrecy wrought by nerve-racking violence and assumptions to boot. Moll’s (Jessie Buckley) realization that Pascal Renouf is indeed the island’s mysterious murderer is heart-breaking (she deserves better!). But, the film takes a much more satisfying turn in its last hoorah, in which Moll enacts a resounding “fuck no” equivalent in response to Pascal’s titular question, “Can you keep a secret?”
Writer/director Luca Guadagnino drastically switched gears from queer, intellectual romance to blood-gushing, body-crumpling classic horror remake. Although, it’s less of a remake and more like a situation in which two innovative directors went completely different directions with the same premise (an American girl joins a reputable German dance institution), except one did it 40 years earlier. The reveal of Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) as Mother Suspiriom incarnate is two-tiered in the sense that most of us thought we knew what the movie would be about, and when we realized we didn’t, we were aghast. When it finally exploded into its trippy, gory, ceremonial, and demonic climax, jaws were on the floor, for better or worse.