Big plot twists are perfect for horror movies. A jaw-dropping reveal can raise the stakes, intensify the horror and keep the viewer’s heart racing. But the most powerful plot twists aren’t just terrifying, but tragic. This is when characters the viewer has come to empathize with, and root for, are suddenly faced with an awful reality or impending doom.
The twist might be that they, or someone dear to them, was dead all along. Or that the hero or heroine has done something truly unforgivable and can’t move on. The best horror movie plot twists are the ones that hit the audience right in the feels, because they’ve come to empathize and connect with the main characters.
10 ‘Final Destination 5’ (2011)
The fifth and current final of the Final Destination franchise (there is a sixth film in production) follows Sam and Molly’s attempt to cheat death. After successfully dodging the Grim Reaper through various trials, the seemingly-spared duo board a plane to Paris. But while doing so they pass Alex and Carter from the first Final Destination film. It then hits the viewer that Final Destination 5 is actually a prequel – and Sam and Molly are on the doomed Flight 180.
It’s a nasty but ingenious sting in the tail for Final Destination 5 to come full circle. The viewer’s heart breaks for the happy couple who believed they were safe and off to pursue their dreams. It’s also poignantly shocking to realize everyone else on the pane is going to die too – and unlike the first film, the viewer stays on board this time to watch it happen.
9 ‘Would you rather?’ (2012)
Iris attends a dinner party where guests are forced to compete in life-or-death party games. She participates with the promise that if she wins, a bone marrow donor will be found for her leukemia-stricken brother. Iris does win, but when she returns home discovers her brother committed suicide.
Would You Rather forces the viewer to consider how far they would go to save someone they love. It’s brutal to watch Iris commit ruthless, inhumane acts to save her brother, only for it all to have been in vain.
8 ‘Fall’ (2022)
Best friends Becky and Hunter climb to the top of a TV tower to scatter the ashes of the former’s late husband. The ladder breaks, leaving them stranded 2000 feet high. As their rescue attempts fail, the pair become desperate. Hunter is able to climb down and retrieve a bag with their supplies, but days pass and the food and water run out. A delirious Becky suddenly realizes that Hunter actually fell, and died, in her attempt to get the bag. She has been hallucinating Hunter ever since out of shock, fear and grief.
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Hunter’s fate is devastating, as is realizing Becky is all alone on the tower. The haunting reveal, complete with a vulture-infused gore shot of Hunter’s body, helps push Fall (of which a sequel is currently in the works) from survival thriller to horror.
7 ‘The Uninvited’ (2009)
This remake of the Korean film A Tale of Two Sisters sees Anna return home after a stay in a psychiatric facility. She and her sister Alex discover their mother, killed in a fire, was really murdered by their father’s new girlfriend. But it is revealed Anna was the one responsible for the fire, which also killed Alex – Anna has been hallucinating her sister all along.
It’s a punch in the guts for viewers to learn Alex is dead, and that Anna was indirectly responsible for her death. What’s worse is that Anna has also killed innocent people in her deluded quest for the ‘truth’.
6 ‘Marrowbone’ (2017)
Four siblings live together in a large house after the death of their mother. They are plagued by supernatural occurrences, which are strongly inferred to be the ghost of their abusive father. It is eventually revealed the three younger siblings were murdered by their father, and the eldest – Jack – has been communicating with them as ‘atlers’ (alternate personalities) in his head.
Discovering the truth about the siblings is horrendously sad, not the least because of the devastating impact it has had on Jack. It’s deeply touching when his girlfriend Allie chooses not to give him his medication, because to do so would take away Jack’s alters – and his siblings – forever.
5 ‘His House’ (2020)
Bol and Rial are South Sudanese refugees living in suburban London. Their daughter Nyagak drowned during their perilous crossing of the English Channel. Rial experiences strange occurrences in their house, and through flashbacks we learn the haunting is related to what happened the day they escaped a massacre in South Sudan: when rescue was only possible for those people with children, Bol and Rial stole Nyagak from her real mother to pretend she was their daughter.
His House shines a light for viewers on the terrible experiences of refugees, and the heavy burden of guilt. Exploring such trauma through the metaphor of a haunted house was a master stroke for first-time director Remi Weekes.
4 ‘The Others’ (2001)
Two children, Anne and Nicholas, live with their brittle mother Grace in the aftermath of World War II. After experiencing unexplained phenomena, Grace begins to suspect their reclusive country manor is haunted. And she is right – but it’s she and the children, and their servants, who are the ghosts.
Nicole Kidman is outstanding as Grace, especially in the heart-wrenching scene where she admits the truth to the children – it was she who killed them all, in a murder-suicide, during an episode of psychosis.
3 ‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999)
Malcolm, a child psychologist, helps Cole, a nine-year-old boy who claims he can see and talk to dead people. It is revealed Malcolm himself is a ghost, shot by a former patient in an incident seen at the beginning of the film (which the viewer was led to believe Malcolm survived).
The sensational twist instantly changes the viewer’s perceptions of several characters. Malcolm’s seemingly cold and avoidant wife Anna is really a heartbroken, widow – literally haunted by the ghost of her husband. And Cole, for all his (understandable) trauma, had the courage to accept and connect with Malcolm – despite the fact the latter would have always appeared to him with a gaping, bleeding bullet wound.
2 ‘The Orphanage’ (2007)
Laura and Carlos’s adopted son Simón goes missing at the opening party for their new orphanage. Months later she discovers the dark history of the orphanage, including how many of the children were murdered. Laura also finds a secret room – with a dead Simón inside. She realizes she herself caused Simón’s death by inadvertently blocking the entry to the secret room, trapping him there.
To have a child go missing is every parent’s nightmare – to find them dead and realize it was actually your fault is beyond imagining. Laura’s pain is excruciating, so much so that it’s a bittersweet relief for the viewer when she dies and joins the ghosts of Simón and the murdered orphans.
1 ‘The Mist’ (2007)
David and his son Billy are among others trapped in a supermarket when giant, unworldly creatures emerge from a thick mist. They manage to escape with three others but eventually come to the conclusion there is no escaping the mist. David helps the others commit suicide with their four remaining bullets, including shooting his own son. Minutes later a US Army convoy arrived – and David realizes the group had actually been within moments of rescue.
As cruel plot twists go, few horror films can top The Mist. The sheer agony David experiences is excruciating to watch and pure nightmare fuel to imagine. Stephen King, on whose novella the film was based (and included a much more positive ending) praised the plot twist, saying “We need movies that dare to piss people off”.
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