I’m not sure if such a term as “genre twist” exists in the vocabulary of film theory; I sort of invented it for the benefit of the following list. So what exactly do I mean by a genre twist? To put it simply, it’s a change in a film’s structure causing the genre adopted at the beginning to shift into another genre which then lasts to the end or transforms into another one (though generally not the one we started with).
A genre twist is a genre mash-up, albeit a peculiar one – linear, not simultaneous. Usually it’s a consequence of a radical plot twist – when the change in the narrative is so wide-ranging that the whole genre adapts. Yet a plot twist isn’t required as the list of factors determining a genre cannot be limited to the storytelling modes. It can be a mood shift or a visual change that will turn a comedy into a horror.
When you define a genre in a very rigorous way you will see genre twists in most so-called mind-game films. If the final plot twist reveals that all the monsters presented were in fact figments of someone’s imagination, it arguably can be considered a shift of a genre; the same goes for the opposite, when after a series of non-paranormal events a character discovers he/she has been dead all this time etc. I decided to deliberately exclude such cases from the scope of my research as examples of overtheorizing.
Besides, mind-games became so exploited a subject already that their twists seem to be anything but spectacular and I find no sense in writing about it yet again, honestly.
Taking all that into account it turns out that a clear genre twist as I described it is a rare phenomenon, which might seem quite surprising given the fact we’ve been watching all these Lynchian or Pulp Fiction-esque genre hybrids, mash-ups and mixes for quite a long time. I don’t judge this scarcity as unequivocally negative as a shift of a genre is only a consequence of various artistic decisions which – as you will see below – might end up in both success and failure.
Messing around with viewer’s expectations towards certain narrative elements became something like a trademark of Antonioni’s work – neither the unsolved murder case in “Blow-Up” remains relevant, nor “Professione: Reporter” has anything in common with the pace and tension of journalism.
In fact, it’s “L’avventura” that started this tendency and is still the most vivid, obvious example of the technique. The accidental and mysterious disappearance of a – as we might think then – significant character surprisingly doesn’t initiate an investigation but rather catalyzes a tempestuous affair of the heart between (well, let’s say) friends of the evaporated girl.
While Monty Python closes its “Life of Brian” with the mischievous recommendation: “If you have enjoyed this film, why not go and see La note”, we could assume that the same line with “L’avventura” instead would be a less absurd but more accurate prank at the end of some Hitchcock’s movie.
2. Full Metal Jacket
The duality of this film’s genre is almost as vivid as the duality of man (“the Jungian thing”) in Pvt. Joker’s persona. Along with the deaths of the two main characters and the change of location, the whole movie undergoes a radical transformation. The difference between the two parts is no smaller than the one between a soldier and an inductee – or a soldier and a maggot, according to Sgt. Hartman’s dictionary.
However it’s hard to deny that the first half is a war movie – the action does take place in barracks among recruits and officers – its claustrophobically limited environment, relations founded on submission and survival of the fittest resemble those typically associated with prison films. The end of this little hell of a drill might be a welcomed breath of fresh air even though it is the Vietnamese air, soon to be filled with the smell of napalm.
No list presenting genre hybrids can even claim to be complete without Takashi Miike’s contribution. One might argue that “Audition” is just a horror/thriller film with an extremely long introduction (first red flags indicating that something may be wrong with this love at first sight scenario appear after half an hour into the movie, the first explicitly scary thing – around the fifteenth minute).
However, the gap between the innocence of this Rohmerish dating-game-like beginning and the torture pornography of the ending is so prodigious – comparable only to the contrast between the common and alternative use for a piano string depicted in the movie – that it sure earns the name of a spectacular twist.
4. From Dusk Till Dawn
It is arguably the worst movie on the list, at the same time one frankly impossible to ignore. Allegedly Quentin Tarantino wrote the screenplay for only $1,500 and I will take the liberty of saying that forking over a single dollar more for it would be an overpayment.
The film simply breaks down into two entirely separate parts, only first of which could at best be deemed interesting. Watching this fractured plot could be compared to being a subject of narrative experiment conducted by two mad scientists who are just having fun without regard for their victim’s comfort. But at the end of the day, yeah, it surely is the most spectacular genre twist ever made.
5. Holy Motors
The long-awaited return of the iconic neo-baroque director, Leos Carax brings a movie which contains such a variety of distinctive iconographies and motifs that it actually creates another genre defined by genre shifting. “Holy Motors” is a tribute to fluctuation as the essence of motion pictures and actor’s craft in particular as the main vehicle of change here is the Carax’ Muse, veritable genius of shapeshifting – Denis Lavant.
It’s mostly down to his sterling efforts that this constant modulation is so spectacular in the very original sense of the word, making the whole thing look like a drastic anatomy lesson on the great mystification of cinema and the genre in detail.