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-evil-suspense, the audience roots for the protagonists since we've developed a relationship with them. And when Titanic shifts from love story to 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 films that left viewers spinning after a dramatic story shift.
Charlie (Jeff Daniels) accepts a ride home from an attractive woman named Lulu (Melanie Griffith), but she instead takes him to Virginia to pose as her husband in order to fool her mother. As a romantic comedy, Something Wild is full of screwball antics. It seems like a lighthearted story about a slightly insane woman injecting a little fun into the boring life of the clean cut guy. But when Ray Liotta suddenly enters the scene as Lulu's unstable ex-husband, things take a turn for the worse.
After spending most of the film discovering his ability to laugh and not take life so seriously, Charlie is suddenly stuck in a vicious battle for survival against a dangerous man. The genre shift of the film was also exaggerated by inconsistency in the characters and the two halves of the film are full of gaps. Jonathan Demme was apparently still learning how to play with audience expectations, a skill he later demonstrated with The Silence of the Lambs.1,035968Was this too much?
In what seems like standard romantic fare, a young man (Anthony Edwards) meets a young woman (Mare Winningham) and they fall in love. They make a date, which he misses, and while trying to find her to apologize he happens to picks up a ringing payphone only to discover America has possibly started a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Then all hell breaks loose as Los Angeles scrambles to survive something that may not actually happen.
When a meet-cute rom-com suddenly becomes a high-stakes thriller with a heavy dose of paranoia, it's jarring. Unfortunately, the set-up isn't strong enough to carry the film through the shift and the events that occur end up seeming more implausible than plot worthy.625702Was this too much?
Sunshine starts out as a science fiction film where a team of scientists are sent into space to stabilize the sun by sending a incendiary device into its core. As they get closer to their target, they encounter a signal from the ship dispatched on a mission that failed. Thinking some members of the crew may still be alive, they try to approach the damaged ship. In a series of rapidly escalating events, the film takes on scary movie elements as equipment fails due to human error, things are destroyed, and the crew is knocked off one by one after most of them lose their sanity.
While there have been other successful sci-fi/horror mash-ups, the reason why everything falls apart is pretty flimsy. The characters have a brawl near the start of the film showing they aren't the most mature scientists, so it's not a huge shock when they make mistakes and pass away. Inconsistencies in science logic make the horror elements of the film unbelievable as well. For instance when Cillian Murphy survives events that offed many other characters. If a world (or outer space universe) isn't believable, the audience is going to get lost when the rules change.9321,221Was this too much?
Death Proof opens on a group of friends on their way to a "girls only" weekend vacation house. After cruising around in their car, they end up at a series of bars. The girls run into Pam, one of their rivals, who leaves the bar with Stuntman Mike at the same time as the girls. But when the group turns left and Mike turns right, his true character emerges, Pam is exterminated, and the film becomes a thriller.
Quentin Tarantino is known for not sticking to traditional narratives, nor any one genre in his films, but Death Proof is probably his least coherent. While it was intended to resemble an obscure B movie (or maybe Z), Death Proof's mismatched conversations versus high-adrenaline car chase scenes are never connected in the narrative. So when Stuntman Mike suddenly starts taking people out, its jarring for a number of reasons.
Considering the film was released as Grindhouse, a double feature in which Death Proof was followed by a completely different film, the jarring effect is even more noticeable. Even Tarantino considers this his worst film.1,5762,221Was this too much?