If you've ever been watching a movie when a sudden plot twist left you feeling you're watching an entirely different film, you may have been the victim of a movie that totally changed genre. While there are many movies that took hard left turns, most of the movies that have totally different second halves use the twist for a good reason.
When The Sound of Music switches from feel-good musical to escaping-from-Nazis-suspense, the audience roots for the protagonists since we've developed a relationship with them. And when Titanic shifts from love story to life-or-death action film, the romance between Jack and Rose has been set up enough that viewers aren't sunk along with the ship.
But not all movies are able to shift tone or genre so easily and many movies that shifted tones partway through lost their audience's attention as well as any understanding of the film's story. So, what makes some movies that made dramatic tonal changes work and others not? It depends how the first part of the movie is set up, as well as how different the two halves of the film really are. Here are the best examples of schizophrenic films that left viewers with whiplash after a dramatic story shift.
Telly (Julianne Moore) believes her son died in a plane crash but both her husband and psychiatrist insist the child never existed. Joining forces with who she believes to be the parent of her child's friend, they are chased by the National Security Agency. Then, suddenly, aliens enter the picture and the psychological-drama that had been unfolding dissolves into a science fiction mystery.
Fans of movies with solid plot lines might argue that bringing alien beings into the film was lazy writing on the part of the filmmakers. The genre shift found in The Forgotten turns an interesting and plausible story into an absurd fantasy. It may even have been better if the reveal was that it had all been a dream.
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In order to meet women after his wife dies, a film producer friend convinces Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) to hold mock-auditions for a new love. Thinking they are trying out for a movie role, many women show up and Aoyama is smitten with an ex-ballerina. But what starts as a romantic drama about a man searching for a new love quickly becomes a gruesome horror movie as the awful truth about his new lover come to light.
Takashi Miike is well known for adding extremely disturbing visuals to his films, and Audition is no exception. However, the transition from sweet love story to dismemberment, eyeball puncturing, and vomit eating is nothing less than jarring. Viewers not knowing what to expect might feel cheated by the polar opposites themes of love and gore. And audience members that are familiar with what Miike is capable of might feel stifled with more than an hour devoted to a love story.
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The Book of Henry begins as a sweet drama when a young genius named Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) tries his hardest to keep his family together. Since he's such a nice kid, he wants to help a neighbor girl who seems to be in trouble. When he becomes seriously ill, his mother (Naomi Watts) takes over his task and the film quickly switches gears to a dark crime thriller.
This initially compassionate story about a sweet boy and his grieving mother benefits in no way from the genre shift that drives the last act. Henry's character becomes unnecessary to the film since the two parts of the movie are so disconnected. Any empathy that was built by the audience for these characters is immediately squashed when the story goes in a completely different - and unrealistic - direction.
Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) are illusionists and ex-performance partners that separated after Angier's wife dies during an act. Throughout the first part of the film, the two engage in a rivalry of magic show one-upmanship that's dramatic and classically romantic. While Borden uses his twin brother as a double to fool audiences during his act, Angier has a different idea to trick people which sends this film in an entirely different direction.
Christopher Nolan is well known for his intricately detailed (and often confusing) stories, but when The Prestige takes a hard turn into science fiction, the twist may lose some people. It's interesting to draw the parallels between magic and science, and Nolan gives several hints throughout the film foreshadowing his final reveal at the end, mimicking the structure of a magic act to great effect. Audiences can debate what the ending of Inception means or what actually happens during Interstellar, but at least those two films are more believable in that their twists aren't quite so left field.
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