Everyone remembers where they were when they witnessed the twist to Jaume Collet-Serra, David Leslie Johnson, and Alex Mace’s Orphan (2009). We all sat down to watch one of those run-of-the-mill, evil-child movies. And then, boom, Isabelle Fuhrman started to take her makeup off to reveal that she wasn’t a demon child; but a 33-year-old woman from Estonia with hypopituitarism and a propensity for violence. But that’s not the only reason why it continues to stay in public discourse. Collet-Serra’s direction, Johnson’s script, Jeff Cutter’s cinematography, Timothy Alverson’s editing, and John Ottman’s score are perfect. In addition to that, the performances from Furhman, Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Jimmy Bennett, and Aryana Engineer are genuinely amazing.
A prequel to Orphan, titled Orphan: First Kill (2022), is out. Directed by William Brent Bell and written by David Coggeshall, the film follows Leena (Fuhrman) as she escapes the Saarne Institute and assumes the identity of the missing Esther Albright. Then, she proceeds to enter the Albright household with the intention of seducing the man of the family, Allen (Rossif Sutherland), and pushing everyone else out of the way. But, of course, there’s a twist. Esther Albright isn’t actually missing. Her brother Gunnar (Matthew Finlan) killed her accidentally and her mother, Tricia (Julia Stiles) covered up this incident to save him from jail time. This means that Leena isn’t the real danger in this scenario; Tricia and Gunnar are.
Like the original, the twist in Orphan: First Kill is understandably bonkers. However, it’s only enjoyable in an ironic way because of the overall execution. So, let’s talk about some of the movies that do match up to Orphan’s mind-boggling and timeless third-act reveal (that may or may not have an unhealthy sprinkling of family issues). And since I’ll be delving into spoilers here, a spoiler warning is in effect.
1. Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Written and directed by Robert Hiltzik, this slasher horror opens with a pair of siblings (Angela and Peter) enjoying their day at the local lake with their father. But after a freak accident, the father and one of the kids perish; thereby making the other kid the only survivor. Eight years later, it’s revealed that Angela (Felissa Rose) is the one who made it out of there alive and has been living with her aunt Martha (Desiree Gould) and her son, Ricky (Jonatha Tiersten). We see them being whisked away to Camp Arawak so that they can have a fun summer vacation. However, the raging hormones and overall sleaziness in there prove to be overwhelming for the shy and meek Angela. And, on top of that, there’s a killer on the loose who’s horrifically murdering children and adults alike.
Sleepaway Camp was released during a time when the market was already saturated with Friday the 13th sequels. So, that’s probably one of the biggest reasons why this isn’t mentioned while talking about great horror movies. But it’s actually a decent (albeit campy) film, filled with eccentric performances and gruesome kills, that keeps you guessing until the very end about who the killer is. And after the eventual revelation (yes, it’s Angela), it abruptly cuts to the credits; leaving you in a state of utter shock and terror. Yes, Angela is the killer and she has been going after those who are harassing her or partaking in lewd activities. However, Angela isn’t actually Angela. She’s Peter who has been raised as Angela because aunt Martha always wanted to have a daughter. This, as you can imagine, leads to the discussion about the portrayal of transvestism in horror films; a topic that has been in hot waters since Psycho (1960).
2. The Visit (2015)
How in the world can we leave the master of plot twists, M. Night Shyamalan, out of a list of bizarre third act twists? To be honest, this entire article could’ve just been about him. But that would’ve been unfair to everyone else. That’s why I zeroed in on this under-appreciated film where siblings Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) take a trip to their grandparents, Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie). And they document their stay over there in an attempt to bridge the 15-year-old gap between their grandparents and their mother, Loretta (Kathryn Hahn). The vacation starts off pretty well. They receive a couple of rules about going to sleep at 9:30 PM and not bringing up the topic of Loretta. However, it eventually becomes clear that there’s something very wrong with Nana and Pop Pop.
Like Esther/Leena from the Orphan films, the fear stems from the fact that the villains are living, breathing people acting in the most batshit crazy ways. There’s nothing supernatural about them; which begs the question: why are they so weird? And since the answer is as simple as “that’s just how they are”, the viewing experience becomes all the more unsettling. But once you think you are done navigating through Pop Pop and Nana’s antics, Shyamalan throws the curveball that they aren’t actually Becca and Tyler’s grandparents. They are escapees from a psychiatric hospital. They’ve killed the real Pop Pop and Nana and assumed their identities. The last 20 minutes are truly unnerving. The performances from Dunagan and McRobbie are nightmare-inducing, while DeJonge and Oxenbould’s are euphoric and deserving of all the applause in the world.
3. Get Out (2017)
Written and directed by the one and only Jordan Peele, this psychological horror film follows an interracial couple, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams), as they prepare to meet the latter’s family. Chris asks her if she has told her parents that he’s Black and Rose tells him not to worry since her parents aren’t racist. But, as soon as they reach the Armitage estate, the presence of all-Black servants set off Chris and the audience’s alarm bells. Rose’s brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), father Dean (Bradley Whitford), and mother Missy (Catherine) make some disconcerting statements about Black people; and that makes things even tenser. And when the annual get-together takes place, it’s revealed that the Armitages’ wealthy White friends are there to place bids on Chris; thereby taking the racism angle to its pinnacle.
If you think that that’s too much for you to take, then it’s probable that you’re going to faint when Chris finds out that Rose honeypots Black men and gets them sold. And if you think that’s too much, you’ll likely faint a second time upon realizing that the Armitages aren’t just running a modern slavery business. They are also transplanting the brains of Black people into their White buyers. Even though every aspect of Get Out has been discussed to death by this point, the moments where Rose betrays Chris and the scene where Chris learns about what’s actually going to happen to him still hit hard. Even during the umpteenth viewing, you can’t help but wish for things to not go the way they went in the previous viewing. That said, when you hear about the alternative endings Peele had in mind, you heave a sigh of relief to see Chris making it out of there in one piece.
4. The Empty Man (2020)
There’s a good chance that you haven’t heard of this film because it got butchered due to Disney’s poor handling of 20th Century Fox products and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. So, just in case you want to go into it without any knowledge about the plot, this is your second warning. With that out of the way, let’s talk about it, shall we? So, the David Prior directorial opens in 1995 where four friends have a freak encounter with a strange inhuman skeleton that causes all of them to die one by one. Then we jump to 2018 where Det. James (James Badge Dale) is looking into the mysterious disappearance of a girl called Amanda (Sasha Frolova). During his investigation, he learns about something or someone called the Empty Man and a religious cult that revolves around this figure.
Now, all of us have come across the last-minute plot twist that one of the supporting characters is a figment of the protagonist’s imagination. But Prior delivers a heavy gut-punch by revealing that the protagonist of the movie we’ve been watching all this time, i.e. Detective James, isn’t a real human being but a figment of the aforementioned cult’s imagination. Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. The Empty Man is a kind of God that requires a vessel to communicate with his disciples. However, inhabiting an actual human isn’t apparently a sustainable endeavor. So, the cult prays and focuses on materializing a person and fills it with the minutest of details (memories, relationships, experiences, etc.). And then that person becomes The Empty Man’s vessel. This series of reveals isn’t heartbreaking just because of our emotional investment in James’s journey, but also because of how crippling this knowledge is for James. Poor guy.
5. Malignant (2021)
Directed by James Wan, written by Akela Cooper, and based on a story by Wan, Cooper, and Ingrid Bisu, this horror film opens with the butchering of a weird-looking monster that’s referred to as the “cancer”. Then the focus shifts over to Madison Lake-Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis), who is in an abusive relationship with Derek (Jake Abel) and apparently suffers a miscarriage after a particularly violent altercation with him. But when Derek is killed by a dark, long-haired figure, Madison thinks that she’s being haunted by a demonic entity. Things get even more perplexing when she realizes that she has a psychic connection with this entity named Gabriel (Ray Chase and Marina Mazepa), which causes her to witness the murders being conducted by him. And finally, we see that Gabriel isn’t a different person altogether, but Madison herself.
Before you scoff at that twist, hear me out. No, this isn’t some Primal Fear-esque or Fight Club-esque or Split-esque reveal where Madison is suffering from the cinematic iteration of dissociative identity disorder. Gabriel is Madison’s twin brother who didn’t properly separate from her in the woman and ended up being a large teratoma. This means that, at a young age, he was attached to Madison like a deformed conjoined twin. But since he began to live off of Madison, his limbs were removed and what’s supposed to be his face was pushed into her skull. Gabriel remained dormant until the day Derek hit Madison on the back of the head. So, every night, he appears out of Madison’s skull, takes control of her body, and goes around killing the doctors who operated on him and Madison. Oh, and he also wants to kill his and Madison’s (who’s actually Emily) birth mother and Madison’s step sister.
6. Glorious (2022)
Directed by Rebekah McKendry and written by Todd Rigney, Joshua Hull, and David Ian McKendry, this Lovecraftian horror follows Wes (Ryan Kwanten) as he spirals after an apparent break-up. He makes a pit stop at a public bathroom and proceeds to get drunk and burn everything that ties him to his ex. The following day, he wakes up with a searing hangover which he transfers into the nearest toilet by puking his guts. After he’s done, someone from his neighboring bathroom stall starts to make small talk with him. Finally, the disembodied voice reveals that he is a God named Ghatanothoa (J.K. Simmons) and he wants Wes’s liver. Why? Because, according to him, that’s the only thing that is going to stop him from turning into a physical being and causing the annihilation of the whole universe.
There’s a very interesting explanation for why Ghatanothoa is the reason for the death of the universe. But since it’s not the twist, let’s just say he has daddy issues (the daddy being Cthulhu). Instead, it’s the fact that Wes isn’t the heartbroken, bumbling, scapegoat that the movie wants us to think he is. In reality, he is a psychopathic serial killer who has enticed and murdered several women. The woman who we were thinking to be his ex, i.e. Brenda (Sylvia Grace Crim) was his latest victim. Now, for some reason, she was the straw that broke the camel’s back and made Wes realize how deplorable he is. So, do you realize how painful that revelation feels? Because you’ve been rooting for him to make it out alive or hoping to empathize with him when he sacrifices himself. And now you are sitting there wondering how gullible you are for trusting a man based on his appearance.
7. Moloch (2022)
Directed and co-written by Nico van den Brink, along with co-writer Daan Bakker, this Dutch horror takes place in a village that is situated around a peat bog. Betriek (Sallie Harmsen) and her daughter Hanna (Noor van der Velden) live with Betriek’s parents, Roelof (Fred Goessens) and Elske (Anneke Blok). Simultaneously, an archaeological team led by Jonas (Alexandre Willaume) arrives at the area bordering Betriek’s family property and discovers dead bodies from centuries ago that have been mummified there. These two paths collide when an entranced individual from Jonas’s team, Radu (Edon Rizvanolli) breaks into Betriek’s house and tries to kill Elske. Thankfully, he’s stopped by Roelof. This (and a run-in with Radu’s son) not only forces Betriek to dig into her past, but also triggers Elske; thereby causing her to suffer from epileptic fits.
If you are one of the smartest people on the planet, you’ll probably figure out that the digging, the epileptic fits, all of it is hogwash. I am not very smart, so I couldn’t see through it. That’s why, naturally, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the villain of the story is Elske who is preparing Betriek for a ritualistic sacrifice. Well, technically, the Elske we see isn’t actually Betriek’s mother. That’s just her physical form. The spirit that inhabits the body is that of Feike. Betriek is a descendant of Feike. And due to a deal that Feike made with the god Moloch, she gets to live on through her descendants if she can sacrifice whoever is next in line. During the concluding minutes of the film, it does seem for a second that Betriek has skipped the cycle. But then we see her spirit looking at Hanna sitting with Feike (in Betriek’s skin).
8. Speak No Evil (2022)
Directed and co-written by Christian Tafdrup, along with co-writer Mads Tafdrup, this Swedish vacation horror follows Bjørn (Morten Burian), Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch), and Agnes (Liva Forsberg) on their trip to Italy. There they meet a Dutch family, Patrick (Fedja van Huêt), Karin (Karina Smulders), and Abel (Marius Damslev), who politely end up hijacking Bjørn and his family’s holiday. They end up becoming such close acquaintances, that the Swedes travel all the way to Holland to spend a few days with them. Initially, Patrick and Karin come off as an over-the-topic and enthusiastic couple. But, their violent outbursts at the meek, shy, and largely silent Abel raise a lot of red flags. Things get all the more problematic when Patrick and Karin try to make it seem like Bjørn and Louise are judging their parenting skills, and then get offensive with them.
So, the truth is that Abel isn’t actually Patrick and Karin’s son. As revealed in the final moments, they are part of a large child-trafficking business (which doesn’t exactly have any monetary benefits). The process involves the Dutch couple getting comfortable with a family during a trip, bringing them over to their place, killing the parents, taking their child (thereby replacing that child with the one they had acquired from a previous family), and cutting his/her tongue so that the child never protests. The film isn’t interested in answering why Patrick and Karin run this sadistic cycle (which makes it all the more horrifying). My best guess is that it’s their way of saying that there’s no room for politeness in this world. And if you think there is, then they are going to take your child, kill you, and prove you wrong.