For April Fools’ Day, I was going to compile a list of films that are basically just pranks on the audience. Twist endings are often a nuisance anyway, but those that seem like a “gotcha!” reveal are the worst, particularly when they negate a lot of the content of the film beforehand. And I always recall the time I saw “The Village” and a friend complained that M. Night Shyamalan just “punk’d us.”
Well, it turns out I’ve already done something like that in the past (only a year ago, which shows how bad my memory is getting), listing “The Usual Suspects,” “Boxing Helena,” “Identity,” “Carnival of Souls” and even the appropriate “April Fool’s Day” as examples of movies that kind of play a joke on the audience. Here’s what I wrote on “The Usual Suspects”:
This twist-ending classic is somehow still satisfying despite the fact that all of the events in the film, save for the interrogation, have not happened. Perhaps it’s just a matter of good storytelling and good story-within-storytelling. Same goes for “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” or any other work that uses a framing device (“The Princess Bride,” Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”). But “The Usual Suspects” is unlike the others in that it convinces you it’s not just some tall tale or fiction being depicted in flashback. And it got everybody good, proving that a movie can be a worthwhile prank on its audience if done well.
In the past year, though, more films have been added to the fold, mostly those “questionable” documentaries that play with genre as well as with truth (speaking of which, now I wonder if Joaquin Phoenix spent too much tie around Shyamalan). Of course, marketing plays a lot into the trickery these days, with people heading into “Catfish” and being more annoyed it wasn’t a horror film, as trailers imply, than whether or not the filmmakers manipulated their own narratives for the sake of a good story.
So instead of repeating myself, I decided to turn this into a simple discussion post, asking what movie (or marketing campaign) gotcha the worst?