Sommerleigh Pollonais, Senior Writer
Thrillers are basically the cool cousin that you hang with when Horror had too much to drink and needs to sleep it off. It’s the genre that likes to dip its toes into darker themes but it usually goes light on the blood and gore while upping the mystery elements in a way horror movies don’t. And, like most folks who love horror, I tend to seek out a good thriller when I’m taking a break from the gory stuff.
But mostly I watch thrillers to see if I’m smart enough to figure out the mystery before the story is ready to reveal itself. That way I get to be the one to say aha! before the movie says Gotcha!
So with mild to major spoilers ahead, here are my Top 5 Gotcha Moments in Thrillers:
#5 Dressed to Kill
Let’s get the elephant out of the room right away. This movie may be problematic for some viewers and has not aged that well. That said, I remember seeing it with no knowledge of what to expect and also I was maybe a tad too young to be watching this (I think I was 14). Of all the movies on this list it’s also the only one that has not one but two gotcha moments with the first being some misdirection, a la Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, as to who the protagonist is and the second being the killer’s identity.
Grown up me would’ve seen the second one coming but teenage movie junkie me did not, and to say it was surprising would be an understatement. If you haven’t seen this movie starring none other than Michael Caine a.k.a. Christopher Nolan’s favourite actor (the man pops up in almost all his films) and Nancy Allen (RoboCop) then I recommend giving it a go.
The sequel to this sleeper hit is due out later this year (Orphan: First Kill) but it’s hard to picture it having the same impact when you consider how much of Orphan’s success is due to its now famous “gotcha” reveal. I always try to avoid spoilers in my lists when possible and I’ll do my best here as well so let’s just say if the character of Esther is giving off an “old soul” vibe, there’s a reason for it. This is one of those movies where a single element (and a memorable performance by Isabelle Fuhrman) elevates what is a standard thriller and makes it something (hopefully) worthy of a sequel.
#3 A Perfect Getaway
A Perfect Getaway is a personal favourite and one of those movies I pull out from my collection and rewatch every now and again. Starring Milla Jovovich, Steve Zahn, Timothy Olyphant and Keile Sanchez, the story centers on a couple (Jovovich and Zahn) in Hawaii for their honeymoon. They seem to be having fun until they meet up with another couple who asks for a ride. But due to their strange behaviour, the honeymooners decline. Later on they meet yet another couple (Olyphant and Sanchez), this time they hit it off but among all of them are a couple of killers targeting, you’ve guessed it, couples!
Who are the good guys? Who can be trusted? The entire movie is a whodunit with one very cool reveal that takes the slow but steady pace of all that came before and kicks the finale into hyper drive. If you haven’t seen it, please do because this one is a personal favourite when it comes to thrillers and even though I already know the reveal, the cat and mouse games and the very meta dialogue makes it a fun watch every time. Plus who could ever get enough of Timothy Olyphant!
Did I mention a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth is in this too? Piqued your interest now, didn’t I?
#2 Primal Fear
I’m not showing off (too much) when I say it’s a rare thing when a thriller gets one past me. I usually figure things out by the middle act or, at the very least, ten minutes before the reveal. So when I say I didn’t see the “gotcha” moment of Primal Fear coming, like AT ALL, I’m not exaggerating. And no matter how much time has passed it still blows my mind how well it was hidden.
Starring Richard Gere and a then unknown Edward Norton in the role that basically launched his career, and deservedly so. Gere is really good here but it’s Norton that steals the show and it’s his reveal that blew the minds of everyone that saw this movie.
When a twist is so good you immediately want to go back and rewatch the entire thing, you know you have a gem on your hands. So if for some crazy reason you’ve never hit play on Primal Fear, you need to fix that right quick so you can bear witness to one of the genre’s finest gotcha moments.
Honourable Mention – The Usual Suspects
I’m sure there are folks reading this who think I’m crazy for putting this one as a honourable mention. Keyser Soze are you crazy?! While I readily admit The Usual Suspects has one of the most memorable twist endings in film history, can you honestly say you can remember this entire movie?
Besides the line-up where the actors kept cracking up because Benicio del Toro wouldn’t stop farting (true story, go look it up) or the last reveal of Kevin Spacey pimp walking his way to freedom while poor Chazz Palminteri regrets all of his office decorations (this is why cops use interrogation rooms dude – blank walls!) there’s really no other scenes I can remember from this movie. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure what exactly the plot is about and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.
#1 Shutter Island
Magicians use sleight of hand to make you focus on one thing while they pul off the actual trick. It takes fine motor skills and years of experience, and the best of them leave their audiences shocked and amazed when they do. Which is exactly the movie magic used by genius director Martin Scorsese and screenplay writer Laeta Kalogridis to pull off the ultimate “gotcha” moment in thriller history.
Starring Leo DiCaprio as Teddy Daniels and The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) as his partner Chuck, two US Marshals sent to a remote asylum to investigate the disappearance of a patient…and that’s all I’ll say about that.
I remember sitting there with a look of utter confusion on my face when this superbly crafted story finally revealed its biggest secret. As I mentioned before, when a twist is so good you instantly feel the need to sit through the movie again, to see where the clues were hidden, you know they delivered something truly worth watching. What makes Shutter Island a cut above the rest for me are the performances which are so near perfect they make every viewing feel like the very first time. Masterful doesn’t begin to describe it, Shutter Island’s “gotcha” moment and the film as a whole, is one of the finest the genre has to offer.
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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Which of these films is your favourite? Or what gotcha film would you add? And you can check out more thrilling thriller lists below: