Warning: This post contains major, movie-ruining spoilers for My Bloody Valentine 3D and The Uninvited. Don't read it if you haven't seen them, or if you have any intention of ever seeing them.
January leftovers My Bloody Valentine and The Uninvited have a few superficial things in common. They're both remakes (of a 1981 Canadian slasher film and a 2003 Korean thriller, respectively), they're both set in rustic little towns, they're both meant to scare you. But as those of us who have seen both films know, they also share a pretty significant plot device. We'll talk about it in the next paragraph, after one last spoiler warning.
Both films end with the surprise revelation that the protagonists, both recently released mental patients, are the real villains, and that they're so crazy they don't even realize what they've been doing. This is convenient, because it means the audience -- seeing the story through the protagonists' eyes -- has been in the dark, too. In My Bloody Valentine, the masked killer turns out to be Tom (Jensen Ackles), who has spent most of the film trying to stop the masked killer, unaware that it was himself. In The Uninvited, Anna (Emily Browning) has been convinced that her dad's girlfriend is trying to kill her. But as it turns out, Anna has been imagining it all, including conversations with her sister, Alex (Arielle Kebbel), who actually died a year ago. When "Alex" kills Dad's girlfriend at the end, it's really Anna holding the knife.
Neither of these films is the first to use the old split-personality-murderer trick, and the fact that they've been released two weeks apart is just a coincidence. But what does it say about modern scary-movie making?
I think it's the result of audiences getting harder to fool. The more movies you see, the more likely it is that you'll spot a film's surprises before it wants you to. If the central mystery is just a question of who the killer is, then we know it has to be one of the characters we've already met, so the only way for the movie to guarantee we don't guess correctly is to somehow exclude the real culprit from our list of suspects. The movie basically has to tell us, "This person didn't do it," even though he did. And how does a movie get away with that? By having the person not know he did it. If the movie is told from that person's point of view, then it's justified in reporting to us what that person thinks and sees, even if it's erroneous.
My Bloody Valentine accomplishes this by cheating, really. There's a pivotal scene early on where Tom and the killer are in the same scene, Tom locked in a cage and unable to stop the murderer from hacking some poor victim to pieces. This tells us, the viewers, that Tom and the killer are two different people -- Tom is not the killer. But at the end, when the truth comes out, the movie replays this scene from an objective point of view. Now we see Tom commit the murder, then lock himself in the cage so that when rescuers come they'll see he can't possibly have done the deed.
The problem with this method is that the movie is not told exclusively from Tom's point of view. It's from an omniscient, objective point of view, with numerous scenes that Tom isn't in. Therefore, it's a cheat to have ONE SCENE use the "unreliable narrator" trick, since every other moment of the film is what-you-see-is-what-you-get.
The Uninvited does a much better job of it. Here, the entire movie is told from Anna's point of view. It has to be -- if it ever shifted to someone else's viewpoint, we'd see that Alex isn't there and that Anna is talking to herself. (There is one violation of this, where the Elizabeth Banks character eavesdrops on Anna from outside her bedroom door, and we see Banks walk away, worried. This shot shouldn't be in the film, since it represents something outside Anna's knowledge.) We don't feel cheated at the end because we realize (though we might not have consciously noticed it at the time) the movie was always being presented through Anna's eyes. In other words, the movie never SAID Alex was alive and that Anna's mind could be trusted. All it really said was, "Here's the world as Anna sees it." We assumed that what Anna was seeing was reality simply because that's the case with 99% of movie protagonists.
Both films worked on me -- I didn't see either twist coming. In my defense, My Bloody Valentine had to cheat to get me (without that one scene, Tom would have been the primary suspect), but The Uninvited had me fair and square. For those who have seen the films, be honest: Were you fooled? Or did you figure out what was happening before the movie revealed it?