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.
Telly (Julianne Moore) believes her son passed in a plane crash, but both her husband and psychiatrist insist the child never existed. Joining forces with the person 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.
In order to meet women after his wife passes, 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 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.
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 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.
When Judd Apatow, Adam Sandler, and Seth Rogen team up you'd think the results would be stellar comedy. The first part of Funny People is a dark but humorous look at a man who believes he's fading from cancer. But when Sandler's George finds out his treatment worked and the danger of passing on is gone he reconciles with a past lover and the movie weirdly tries to become a romantic drama.
Sure, Funny People has two story conflict - George's illness and his relationship with a girl from his past - but the shift between them is anything but smooth. It switches from comedy to drama, remaining dark throughout, but the sudden changes in tone make the story choppy, as if the filmmakers couldn't make up their mind on what kind of movie they were making. And sprinkling random raunchy jokes throughout the film really didn't help make this any clearer.