Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The #Twister edition...things that make you say WHAT?!

While I'm known for my "ambitious" blog hops, I have to give credit where credit is due: thank you, Caroline, for making the suggestion a few months ago (and knowing that I'd be crazy enough to run with it).

Kudos to Jami for defining a good twist. I'll add that it has to make you gasp (just a little bit) and exclaim "What?!". As you can see below, I spend a lot of my time doing both.

Spoiler alerts are implied (even if I don't spoil every single one of these stories).

Television

This is the genre I had the hardest time with. If a television show is done well (and I don't want to regularly watch one that isn't), we know the characters well enough that it's hard to get in a good twist without viewers seeing it coming. And if the show is predicated on twist after twist...never mind, I won't be watching that (see above about "done well").

But there was one extremely well-done show that got in a great twist in recent memory, so much so that to do this day I'm still thinking about it. I refer you to Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and no, I'm not talking about the fact that the slayer was a teenager, that her vampire boyfriend became evil (in retrospect, is that really a twist?) or that the show took place in a Hellmouth named Sunnydale. I'm thinking instead about the Season 6 episode "Normal Again" in which a demon Buffy fought injected her with a venom that made her believe she was living in an alternate reality, namely, that instead of fighting demons and vampires for the last few years, she was really in a mental institution, overseen by her not-divorced parents. She was finally out of a catatonic state, and the doctors said it was essential that if she wanted to get better she had to accept that her fantasy world was just that and kill off her imaginary friends. Which meant that our Buffy subdued her loyal friends and sister to be killed so she could be rid of the fantasy. Ironically, her mother's words in the mental institution inspire her to save her friends, and she defeats the demon who was going to kill them. All was well...until the final scene, in which a catatonic Buffy sat in her cell while her mother and father wept over her.

Is this for real?
What?! What happened there, and what did this mean for the show? It was never addressed again, but I spent the rest of the series wondering what, exactly, I was watching.

Movies

Honestly, this genre was the reason I wanted to do this blog hop. Because of their relatively short duration, movies are best suited to give audiences a satisfying twist, or two or three or four.

Wild Things, on first glance, is kind of trashy. First spoiled Kelly (Denise Richards) claims to her mother, Sandra (Theresa Russell), that her former teacher (and Sandra's former lover) Sam (Matt Dillon) raped her. Then trailer trash Suzie (Neve Campbell) calls Detective Ray Duquette (Kevin Bacon) and joins the complaint, only to be grilled on the stand and forced to confess that two girls made it up. Sam, having been beaten up by Sandra's thugs, gets a settlement with the help of his possibly incompetent lawyer Bowden (Bill Murray)...and then celebrates with Kelly and Suzie in a cheap motel room! Suzie looks too nervous to wait for her share of the settlement, so after the two girls have a tryst, Kelly convinces Sam to kill Suzie. Later, Duquette, while pursuing a lead about Kelly's connection to Suzie's disappearance, accidentally shoots and kills her. He's forced off the job...and then meets up with Sam. The two go for a boat ride, during which Sam tries to kill Duquette...with the not-dead Suzie! After his body goes overboard, Suzie poisons Matt Dillon and sails off into the sunset.

What could possibly go wrong with this bunch?
Wait, what? It turns out the whole operation was Suzie's idea. She might have been poor, but she also happened to have a genius IQ. After Duquette murdered a young friend of hers over a prostitute Duquette was sleeping with, he arrested Suzie on a fake drug charge in order to hide his crime. Suzie called Sam, who didn't bail her out. She found evidence that he was sleeping with Kelly and blackmailed him into carrying out her scheme, which included befriending Duquette and selling the idea to Kelly as if it were his. The final scene is when Bowden delivers the money to Suzie on a beach. "Remind me not to piss you off!"

Indeed.

If what motivated Wild Things was money and revenge, what moved the plot of the classic Laura was obsession. It's got all of the trappings of a good old-fashioned twist, starting with the unreliable narrator and the revelation that the police not only don't have the murderer, they have the wrong victim! Just as Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is starting to fall for the deceased Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), she walks into her apartment without any clue as to what's going on. As McPherson digs deeper, he realizes that Laura's fiance is even worse than he'd thought (and the casting of Victor Price as the down-on-his-luck little rich boy might qualify as a twist in and of itself) and that her best friend Waldo (Clifton Webb) isn't as gentle and sensitive as he might seem. It's a suspenseful classic, and all I'll tell you is that this time the sinister Judith Anderson *isn't* the villain.

Gene Tierney as Laura Hunt gets to choose between a high strung columnist, a shiftless playboy...

Or the detective who fell in love with her picture when he thought she was dead. Er...
And now for something completely different, the South Korean movie, Oldboy. The motivation here is pure vengeance, but nothing about this story is simple. Dae Su (Choi Min Sik) is drunk and on his way to give his young daughter a birthday present when he's taken into police custody for what we assume is his rowdy behavior. Right after he's released, he's kidnapped and held in what looks like a cheap hotel room for fifteen years. All he can do is write and watch television, from which he learns that his wife has been murdered and he's the prime suspect. He practices martial arts and vows revenge, and when he's mysteriously freed he finds his way into the restaurant where young Mi Do (Kang Hye-Jeong) is working. With her help, he tracks down several leads, including the restaurant that may have served him dumplings, and figures out where he was held. There's a fight scene (hammers), torture (teeth) and Dae Su comes face-to-face with his unapologetic captor Woo Jin (Yu Ji-Tae), who admits that he took him but tells him that he has to figure out why. He and Mi Do have sex and then go on the hunt, and with an old friend's help he realizes that he and his captor were in school together. Both were unremarkable, but Woo Jin's sister Soo Ah is another story; after rumors that she was sleeping around got out, she committed suicide. Dae Su now remembers that he was the one who inadvertently started the rumors...after he saw Woo Jin and Soo Ah having sex.

"Why fifteen years?"
Dae Su confronts Woo Jin while one of Woo Jin's agents holds Mi Do. "Why fifteen years?" Woo Jin taunts Dae Su. To answer the question, he gives Dae Su a photo album...of his daughter. As he flips through, a horrified Dae Su realizes that Mi Do is his daughter! He begs Woo Jin not to tell Mi Do, and to prove his desperation he cuts out his own tongue. Woo Jin agrees to stay silent, then kills himself as he remembers his sister's last moments. Dae Su, miserable, begs Woo Jin's hypnotist (don't ask) to help him, and she agrees. The movie ends with Dae Su and Mi Do happily hugging in the snow, oblivious to the truth.

Confession: you're going to be too busy shuddering under a pillow and covering your eyes to be gasping over this one.

Books

I think it goes without saying that mysteries have a fair bit of twisting in them. We expect them, to a certain extent, so the twist has to be extraordinary to get our attention (and if you go into a book knowing that they're going to be there, it can be even harder to enjoy the surprise). It's a mature genre, so the bar is pretty high. I think I've gone on enough about Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but OH MY GOD. This sneaks up on you, and when it hits you you're kind of astounded. That's all I'm going to say, because it's a great twist.

The story which proves that it's all about perspective
Having said that, there have been a handful of mysteries that I've enjoyed in the last couple of years, and one of them genuinely "got" me. The Good Suicides by Antonio Hill is the follow up to The Summer of Dead Toys. Barcelona Detective Hector Salgado takes on two different, but equally disturbing mysteries in the books, but the thread that connects them is Salgado's growing obsession with his estranged wife, Ruth. She disappears without a trace at the end of The Summer of Dead Toys, and his pregnant associate Leire Castro is keeping boredom at bay in The Good Suicides by investigating Ruth's disappearance while on maternity leave, all while hiding the investigation from their otherwise indulgent and protective boss. Ruth, she discovers, was adopted, and there's every reason to believe that she was stolen from her birth mother. And while she left Hector later in life for another woman, Leire discovers that she had a relationship with a woman before that- and that woman committed suicide. But the biggest discovery of all is from the last sentence of the last page: Hector's boss was the very last person to see Ruth- and he hasn't said anything for more than six months. What? (And why is it taking Antonio Hill so long to come out with the sequel?!)

"Good suicides" lets survivors feel better...
These are the pinnacle of my twisted world. What are some of your favorites?

Thanks so much to all of the bloggers who joined me on this journey! Don't worry- we'll be back for more...