Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Tackling The Horror Plot Twist: 5 Killer Tips

For as long as humans have been telling fictional stories, long before we were ever able to see them on the big screen, or even read them in a book, there have always been plot twists. 

It is not a new concept. It is however a concept, that when executed properly, is still an effective way to shock your audience and make for a cinematic experience that people won’t soon forget.

Now, notice I said “executed properly.” 

That’s the key. 

There are far more films that have missed the mark with this method, whether it be a completely predictable “twist”, or one that just makes no sense and has zero substance. 

There’s no need to call anyone out here, I’m sure you can think back to the last ten films you’ve watched and pick a handful of them that had a plot twist that left a lot to be desired.  

While plot twists span across many genres, today I am going to focus on the horror genre (big surprise, right?)

Not just because it’s my favorite, but because it is easily the genre where the big plot twist is attempted the most, and therefore has some of the most unforgettable ones in recent memory.

With that being said, a plot twist is not always necessary. 

I’ll say that again, in case you breezed past it. 

A plot twist is not always necessary. Even in horror films. 

Take for instance, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. 

There’s no big secret here...there’s a family of deranged cannibals, and a group of bad decision making teenagers trying to escape them. 

One of my favorites, and no twist necessary, that shit is scary enough on its own!

Now lets say you do want to take a shot at writing a horror script with the next big successful plot twist. Sorry, there’s no secret formula….we’re not dealing with Krabby Patties here. (If you don’t get that Spongebob reference, we can’t be friends). 

But, what I can tell you is if your plot twist is something the audience sees coming from a mile away, it’s not a twist. 

So, have fun and get creative with it! 

Also, don’t just throw it in Act 3 with no meaning or substance behind it. 

It needs to make sense. There should be a trail of breadcrumbs throughout Acts 1 & 2 that make the twist make sense once the audience thinks back through all of the little intricacies woven throughout the plot. 

There are too many great ones to list them all, but if you’re in need of some inspiration, here are 5 fantastic examples of horror films with effective plot twists and what we can learn from them:

1) Saw 

James Wan’s 2004 masterpiece left everyone in shock when we found out at the very end of the film that the corpse laying in middle of the room was not a corpse but was, in fact, Jigsaw. 

And that Zep was merely a victim of Jigsaw’s murderous game all along. 

Wan pieced the “whys and hows” together through a series of quick flashbacks as the twist is revealed. 

If you claim you saw this ending coming the first time you watched it, I don’t believe you.

2) The Visit 

It’s no secret that M. Night Shyamalan is known for using plot twists in his stories. 

And in my opinion, there are none that he executes better than in 2015’s The Visit. 

It’s apparent throughout the film that something is off about the grandparents...but to find out they are actually escaped patients from a mental hospital and have killed the real grandparents? Yikes! 

Now, unlike Saw, where the twist wasn’t revealed until the very end, we find out this plot twist as we’re heading into Act 3, which adds an unmatched level of tension to the final act of the film. 

So again, there is no right or wrong way to do it, it’s all about execution.

3) Scream 

The classic “whodunnit” slasher from 1996 kept us guessing who the killer was throughout the movie. 

At one point Sydney’s boyfriend, Billy Loomis seemed like the obvious choice...but too obvious, right? 

Then his phone records were cleared, and he ends up catching a piece of Ghostface’s knife too, so there’s no way it’s him. 

Wrong. Well, sort of…..turns out Billy is indeed (plot twist) ONE of the killers. His best friend Stu is the other killer. That’s right, there’s TWO killers!! 

Again, once we find this bit of information out, and go back and watch it again, the writing was on the wall the whole time.

4) The Sixth Sense 

This is another great example by M. Night Shyamalan, and the one that put him on the map. 

We all know by now that Bruce Willis’ character, Malcom Crowe was actually dead for the entirety of the film, and the second time you watched it, it may have been obvious. 

That’s because Shyamalan left a trail of clues throughout the movie...Crowe was shot at the beginning of the film, however, we never see him die. 

Cole is able to see dead people, so why wouldn’t he be able to see Crowe? Willis’ character only verbally communicates with Cole throughout the film. 

However, watching for the first time, there is so much happening, and we’re so enthralled in the story, most of us didn’t piece this together initially. 

5) The Others 

Alejandro Amenabar's 2001 film has a bit of a slow build, leading up to an ending that was not a lot unlike 

The Sixth Sense, however, it was every bit as effective. 

And it has a lot to do with the journey...Amenabar commented in an interview at the time that "Most of the time it's not about the surprise, but how you set up the surprise, so that when you get there, everything makes sense and it's integrated with the soul of the story." 

Amenabar actually wrote the twist ending to The Others first, then wrote the beginning, and wrote Act 2 last, stating that it helped him assure that everything made sense in the end. 

I’m not saying you should go do exactly that.

I’m saying you should think outside the box and do what works best for you and your script.

Kevin Wilde is an up and coming screenwriter, as well as a feature writer for Into The Script.

Everyday is Halloween for Kevin, as he has an unrelenting passion for all things horror. Influenced by the likes of masterminds such as John Carpenter, Stephen King, Kevin Williamson, Eli Roth, and Rob Zombie, you can certainly look forward to many horrifying tales that will have you sleeping with the lights on.

You can find Kevin on Instagram and Facebook.


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