Considering the nature of horror movies it’s no surprise that twist endings or plot twists in general have become the norm for the genre. From surprise villains to mind-bending narrative shifts that make you question everything you’ve seen so far horror movies have played host to some of the most iconic twists of all time. In fact, a few years ago Jordan Peele presented one of the coolest modern horror movie twists in his film “Get Out” and since his latest film, “Us”, hits theaters this weekend and looks like it will have a few twists of its own I decided to use today’s Top 10 to explore some of the coolest twists the horror genre has produced over the last two decades. These are the twists from the 2000s and 2010s that changes how we looked at stories and even caused us to rewatch films over and over to see how we could have missed them. These are my picks for Top 10 Modern Horror Movie Twists.
For this list I didn’t look at classic twists from the genre and instead focused on twists that have come to define horror from the year 2000 to 2019. Classic twists from before the year 2000 will get their own list somewhere down the line. For something to be considered a twist it has to have some weight to it that changes how we look at the story or forces us to reconsider what we thought we already knew about the film up to that point. They don’t necessarily have to be scary, or even that original, they just have to be effective and memorable.
It goes without saying that a HUGE SPOILER ALERT is in order for this list so you’ve been warned.
Before getting down to business here are a few awesome twists that didn’t make the cut:
– Literal Gods, “The Cabin in the Woods”
– Fake Out Ending, “The Decent”
– The Son is Dead, “The Orphanage”
– The Devil’s Identity, “Devil”
What if your favorite modern horror movie twist? Let me know in the comments and be sure to check out “Us” this weekend and look for my review coming soon.
10. “The Orphan”
Sometimes a ridiculous idea can make for a pretty neat twist. Thus is the case with “The Orphan”, a 2009 psychological horror feature that sees a couple adopt a 9-year-old girl named Esther. What starts off as a nice relationship soon turns deadly as Esther is shown to be a malevolent child capable of murder. The parents, and the audience, find Esther’s knowledge of adult subjects and her capacity for killing a little odd considering her age but by the time the movie is done it’s revealed there is a reason Esther seems wise and capable beyond her years. Esther has hypopituitarism which causes her to appear as a little girl even though in reality she is 33-years-old. She has been responsible for numerous murders having disguised herself as an orphan child for much of her life. This explains her advanced knowledge of adult concepts even if it also kind of waters down the more exciting “evil child” idea most of the picture works towards. It’s an out there twist that feels both strange and inspired and helps drive home this entertainingly odd feature.
9. “The Visit”
You can’t really have a list about twists without M. Night Shyamalan being represented, can you? Almost all of his famous twists could have been considered for this countdown with only his most famous from “The Sixth Sense” released before the year 2000, but I chose to include the twist from 2015’s found footage film “The Visit” which follows a brother and sister who are visiting their grandparents for the first time. They soon find out their grandparents are a little unhinged which doesn’t seem right to their mother who hasn’t spoken to or seen her parents in years. It turns out the real grandparents are dead and the people the kids have been staying with are escaped patients from a mental hospital. The reason I like this twist so much is because it drives home the deeper message of the film. Noone could tell that these people were fakes because of the disconnect they had with the grandparents in the first place. The grandparents died unable to reconcile with their daughter who avoided them because of a relatively minor disagreement. In that context, “The Visit’s” twist shows what true monsters are really like. It helps sell what the movie is trying to say perfectly.
8. “The Ring”
“The Ring” took the world by storm in 2002 and its concept seems to be pretty standard at first. Rachel must solve the mystery of a young girl named Samara’s death to end the “seven day” curse where Samara kill people who watch a video tape. The movie’s final act sees Rachel retrieve Samara’s body from a well and you’d think this would end the terror, right? Wrong! Rachel thinks she has avoided death and ended the curse because more than seven days have gone by and she is still alive. However, Rachel’s love interest Noah falls victim to Samara leading Rachel to realize she has not won, she has instead become a pawn in Samara’s game. The only way to survive the curse is to make a copy of the tape, which Rachel did earlier in the film, and spread Samara’s evil even further. On top of that it’s revealed that Rachel has not “saved” Samara, she has simply freed her to spread her curse on a larger scale. This might not seem like much of a twist, but once you realize the real story has pretty much been Rachel unwittingly doing exactly what Samara wants her to do in order to “free” her the entirety of “the Ring” plays out a whole lot differently in hindsight.
7. “Get Out”
The newest twist on this list, Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” was always suspected of being a deeper film about racism, working that idea into a shocking twist. The entire film black man Chris feels a bit uneasy around his white girlfriend Rose’s family as they seem to try too hard to be accepting of his race and have black people seemingly working for them. We even see a black man lose his mind after he’s exposed to a camera flash telling Chris to “get out”. It’s revealed in the final act that Chris is the target of a larger conspiracy. The host family has found a way to prolong life by transferring consciousness into new bodies. Rose seduces people to be auctioned off as hosts while the actual person’s mind is locked away through hypnoses. They target black people not out of hatred but quite the opposite. They envy the advantages the race provides. In fact, the black servants are actually Rose’s grandparents who have inherited new bodies. It’s a creative twist that helps drive home the racial subtext of the film while also making it an entertaining and unique horror experience.
6. “The Skeleton Key”
Very similar to “Get Out”, “The Skeleton Key’s” twist is one spot higher simply because it introduced the concept first. “The Skeleton Key”, released in 2005, revolves around caretaker Caroline and estate lawyer Luke who work for an elderly woman named Violet whose husband Ben has been paralyzed by a stroke. With me so far? They learn of a pair of slaves from the home’s past named Mama Cecile and Papa Justify who practiced the art of Hoodoo. Long story short these slaves, who were lynched after practicing a ritual with their masters’ children, used Hoodoo to transfer their consciousness to new bodies and have been living as Violet and Ben. In the final act Caroline falls victim to the ritual which swaps her consciousness into Violet’s body. It’s also revealed that Luke’s consciousness had been in Ben the whole time, explaining Ben’s odd behavior and why Violet wanted to keep him quiet. Luke and Caroline are left to waste away in the older bodies while Mama Cecile and Papa Justify continue to live in the younger bodies until its time to perform the ritual again. This twist is made even more insane when you realize that the slaves had performed the ritual on their masters’ children, meaning it was the kids who were lynched just in the slaves’ bodies.
5 “High Tension”
Sometimes a twist can be controversial for how much in changes the final product. That’s why the 2003 French horror film “High Tension” makes this list. For most of the film it seems like a pretty standard horror experience. A woman named Marie tries to save her best friend Alex from a serial killing truck driver. Things get weird though when Alex is freed and accuses Marie of killing her family, which was seen at the hands of the trucker earlier in the film. As things play out it’s revealed that Marie is the killer and that everything we’ve seen is actually in her mind. She imagined the truck driver as the killer. Marie is crazy and is responsible for all the violence in the movie. It’s a classic switcharoo twist that changes the entire complexion of the film and inspires numerous repeat viewings to see how we missed it. It might have divided viewers, but “High Tension’s” changeup is one of the more unexpected and, frankly, random examples of this classic idea that has made this a popular modern horror staple.
4. “Don’t Breathe”
One of the most out-there twists in recent horror cinema belongs to 2016’s “Don’t Breathe” and even became the basis for much of its marketing. For most of the film we are meant to somewhat sympathize with Stephen Lang’s “Blind Man”, a blind Army veteran who is the victim of a home invasion/robbery being committed by main characters Money, Alex and Rocky. We learn early on that the Blind Man’s money is from a settlement after a wealthy young woman killed his daughter in a car accident. It seems like a throwaway attempt at character development, but it all comes back around in the film’s big twist when the thieves find that same woman being held captive in the Blind Man’s basement. But that’s not even the biggest twist. After a series of events leads to that woman’s death and Rocky’s capture it’s discovered that the Blind Man had inseminated the woman forcing her to bear him a new child to replace the one she killed. With his original target dead, the Blind Man decides to use Rocky as the surrogate. It’s a twisted reveal that makes us look at the Blind Man in a whole different light when we sympathized with him for most of the film.
While some consider it more thriller than horror, “Identity” contains one of the most famous movie twists of the 21st Century so far that completely redefines its title when the pieces come together. Throughout the film we follow a group of strangers at a hotel who are killed off one by one as they try to identify the killer. In the second half of the movie however, it’s revealed that what we’ve been watching the whole time is not just a simple slasher film. All of it is taking place inside the mind of a murderer named Malcolm Rivers who has multiple personalities each represented by the main characters. Rivers is undergoing a therapy session meant to eliminate the personalities one by one to allow a single, hopefully docile personality to remain. The deaths are part of the process of eliminating the personalities. However, the twist is made even more shocking when the final moments reveal that Malcolm was not simply destroying his personalities himself. Instead the work was being orchestrated by his most evil personality, a young boy named Timmy who appeared to perish earlier in the film, making Malcolm’s therapy a failure as Timmy now remains the sole personality of the convicted killer.
While the “Saw” franchise has attempted to up the ante with each new entry through slight of hand and misdirection, it’s the initial twist in the first film that remains an iconic revelation for horror fans. The film, and the series, revolves around the work of the Jigsaw Killer who puts his victims through tests forcing them to face with their sins and survive. The first movie focuses on Dr. Lawrence Gordon and photographer Adam Stanheight who are trapped in a bathroom and challenged to kill their cellmate before they are killed themselves. One of the tools at their disposal is the poisoned blood of a man in the center of the room who appears to have shot himself. We go through the whole film trying to uncover who the Jigsaw Killer is with a man named Zep being presented as the most likely candidate. In the final moments of the movie it’s revealed that Zep is simply another test subject of Jigsaw as the man thought dead in the center of the room rises up and reveals that the Jigsaw Killer, a former patient of Dr. Gordon’s named John Kramer, has been in the room the entire time. It’s a great reveal that set the standard for an entire franchise of twists that were yet to come.
1. “The Others”
Few horror twists have led to a revelation as jaw dropping as “The Others”. This 2001 offering contains possibly the most famous horror twist of the last two decades despite most of the movie feeling like your average haunted house story. The film focuses on Grace Stewart and her two children who suffer from photosensitivity. The majority of the picture we’re led to believe the house is being haunted due to strange activity and an intruder entering the home. The final act reveals that this intruder is a medium and Grace and her children are actually dead. THEY are the ghosts haunting the house and the new owners are trying to exorcise them. It’s also revealed that Grace had killed her children and herself as a result of psychosis after her husband’s death in World War II. It’s a neat twist on the haunted house idea that subverts expectations and gives us a horror experience from a perspective we’re not used to seeing. It also changes up the entire complexion of the film from the first viewing to the second turning a tradition haunted house movie into something much deeper and more unique. Even today it’s fun to watch and try to pick out little details that may have clued us in on the final reveal. It’s original, it’s surprising, and it’s my pick for the best horror twist of the last 19 years.