The plot twist is one of the most beloved narrative devices of writers, primarily because it’s a way of keeping the audience on their toes. The best plot twists make perfect logical sense while also being unexpected, as it’s key for a good twist to contain the element of surprise without defying basic logic or breaking the narrative. Though that may seem to be a relatively simple recipe for success, the proper execution of a plot twist is less easy than it may otherwise appear.
When you mix in the conventions and constraints of the horror genre, the plot twist dilemma becomes even more difficult to resolve. There are so many established horror tropes to contend with that originality has become increasingly tricky, particularly with regard to a narrative device designed to surprise the audience. Most twists have been already been done in some form, and horror movies often follow specific narrative trends, so the reconciliation of the two means that the genre occasionally struggles to deliver fresh and exciting twists.
However, there are many horror movies that have delivered truly iconic twists. Some of these are achieved through careful planning and incredibly subtle nuances of storytelling, while others are a matter of shock value or abrupt and unforeseen rug-pulling. Regardless of how they came about, here are some of the horror genre’s best plot twists, including an explanation of what makes them each so great.
9. Saw (2004)
Though the franchise has undoubtedly gotten somewhat out of hand (almost notoriously so, as it became increasingly reliant upon its torture-porn gimmick), the original Saw delivered one of the greatest horror movie twists of all time. A tense and claustrophobic horror-thriller, Saw made use of an intriguing premise: two men, Adam and Lawrence, are chained up in a bathroom with a corpse and tasked with completing certain horrifying tasks in order to earn their freedom. Part of what drives Saw is the mystery at its core: who is the Jigsaw Killer and what does he really want?
Saw boasts a handful of shocking revelations about its characters, with both men learning much about one another while considering their dire situation. Despite the many twists and turns of its plot – including supposed antagonists simply being other Jigsaw victims – Saw‘s final reveal is by far its most shocking: Jigsaw was with them all along. After escaping the trap, Lawrence leaves Adam behind, only for Adam to learn that the corpse in the room wasn’t actually dead, and that he was their captor after all.
It may have been a somewhat bizarre twist, but the unexpected way in which it’s delivered remains one of the best moments in the entire Saw franchise. What makes it so memorable is that it instantly solves the film’s central mystery with a shocking reveal, also subtly setting up the sequel. The notion that Jigsaw was watching his plan proceed far more closely than Lawrence and Adam could have imagined helped Saw to stand out as one of the most exciting horror movies of the ’00s.