6. Jigsaw – Saw (2004)
2004 Horror film Saw went on to spawn a franchise comprising of seven sequels thus far. In the sequels it is common knowledge that Saw’s villain and mastermind is killer John Kramer. However in the first film, the identity of the Jigsaw killer is unknown.
In Saw, photographer Adam Stanheight and doctor Lawrence Gordon wake up to find themselves chained to pipes on either side of a room with a corpse holding a revolver and microcassette recorder between them. Soon they realise that they have been trapped by a sadistic killer called Jigsaw. And in order to escape they must complete a complex puzzle that Jigsaw has concocted.
Throughout Saw, several people are suspected of being the Jigsaw killer. Detective David Tapp suspects that the killer may be Dr Gordon, and Dr Gordon and Adam Stanheight are led to believe that the killer is hospital orderly Zep Hindle. It turns out that the killer has indeed been amongst them the whole time, but not in the way that they thought. At the end of the film, the killer is revealed to be John Kramer who was posing as the corpse on the floor of the room that Adam and Lawrence were trapped in.
The reveal of the real Jigsaw killer and the twist in the film has since gone on to be a recurring theme in the sequels. In particular the latest film in the franchise, Jigsaw, echoes the twist of the villain reveal. Saw was a massive success and was considered a highly original addition to the horror genre upon its release. Much of this is due to its villain reveal, which was not only surprising but incredibly clever.
7. John Doe – Se7en (1995)
Director David Fincher’s neo-noir crime thriller Seven was written by Andrew Kevin Walker who was inspired to write the film after spending time in New York City and hating it. He said “I didn’t like my time in New York, but it’s true that if I hadn’t lived there I probably wouldn’t have written Seven.”
The film sees newly transferred David Mills, who has moved to the city with his wife Tracy, working on a murder case with retiring police Detective William Somerset. The pair soon discovers that they are dealing with a series of gruesome murders by a serial killer who is targeting people who he believes represent the seven deadly sins.
Somerset and Mills are able to identify and track a John Doe who flees before they can apprehend him. The next day Doe decides to turn himself in at the police station and even offers to lead the detectives to the final two victims and confess to the murders. But he will only do this under specific terms.
The reveal in Seven is twofold. Firstly there is the reveal of the killer himself – John Doe. It is not so much who he turns out to be, but the way in which he is revealed to have already been in contact with the detectives – in fact he was face to face with them at one point and they didn’t realise. And the way in which he suddenly appears in the police station. It is a chilling moment where he suddenly appears, compliant yet covered in blood.
But perhaps the best villainous reveal of Seven is the final two victims of John Doe. Of course there is the reveal of what is in the box – representing envy. That itself is a gruesome and disgusting act, and enough to shock the audience. But the biggest twist and reveal of all is the clever way in which John Doe manipulates Mills into delivering the final sin Wrath, after he has provided and provoked him with an incredibly horrific motive. It’s a grim and dark reveal, but a brilliant piece of screenwriting.
8. Amy Dunne – Gone Girl (2014)
The screen rights to Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel Gone Girl were bought by production company Hello Sunshine and 20th Century Fox in 2012, and Flynn herself was engaged to write the screenplay. David Fincher was brought on to direct and Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike were cast as Nick and Amy Dunne respectively.
Gone Girl follows the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Amy Dunne who disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary. Her disappearance receives a lot of press attention and suspicion falls onto Nick, whose apathetic behaviour is interpreted as that of a psychopath as well as forensic evidence that appears to suggest that Amy has been harmed in their house.
It is revealed that Amy is alive and well, and is trying to frame Nick for her murder as punishment for cheating on her. Amy concocted a devious and involved plan which saw her kill another person, exonerate herself and eventually return to their marital home with no consequences for her actions.
Throughout the film, the audience is unaware of what has really happened to Amy. Due to Amy’s manipulation and clever plan, it appears as though Nick may well be guilty. Even when Amy is revealed to be alive, the true extent of what has befallen all those involved and how complex Amy’s deviousness really is, is still eked out, unfolding slowly until the end credits roll. Her reveal as the villain of the piece is truly masterful.
9. Ra’s al Ghul – Batman Begins (2005)
Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the Batman film series received highly positive reviews and became the first film in Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, being followed by The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. Batman Begins has been heralded as the film that inspired a trend of darker superhero films, and also reignited audiences’ interest in the character Batman on screen.
Batman Begins is an origin story which sees a young Bruce Wayne travel to the Far East in hopes of learning how to confront and fight injustice. He starts martial arts training with a man named Henri Ducard, who is a member of the mysterious League of Shadows. But when Ducard reveals to Wayne the true intention of the League – the complete destruction of Gotham, Wayne returns to Gotham where Batman is born.
The reveal of Henri Ducard as actually being the League of Shadows leader Ra’s al Ghul is a chilling reveal for both the audience and for Bruce Wayne. The reveal is made even cleverer by the fact that Ducard is always visible as being a League member, but his true identity and intent is skilfully hidden. We know he is not a protagonist, but his full antagonistical qualities are not obvious. Thus when he reveals himself to Wayne at the end of the film, it is as much a surprise for the audience as it is for Wayne.
10. Rose – Get Out (2017)
Comedian Jordan Peele surprised everyone when he decided to make his debut feature film a horror. But the surprises wouldn’t end there; as Get Out went on to become one of the breakout films of the 2017. Not only was it both commercially and critically successful, it was one of the most talked about films of the year, raising many social and political issues and highlighting racial tensions.
In Get Out we see Chris and his girlfriend Rose take a trip to visit her parents. Soon it becomes clear that Rose’s family are hiding a sinister secret – the family transplants the brains of white people into black bodies. And Chris is set to be their next target.
Throughout all the strange and disturbing things that happen and Chris’s ever growing unease, Rose is by Chris’s side and is there to reassure him. Chris even manages to convince Rose that they should leave, and it is not until he makes a shocking discovery while he is packing their stuff that both Chris and the audience are made to feel unsure of Rose’s intentions.
When Chris goes to confront Rose and she is revealed to be just as villainous as the rest of her family, it is as shocking for the audience as it is for Chris. The moment where we see Rose’s real character and intentions revealed is instant, as if a switch has been flicked.
Peele encourages fans of the film to re-watch it to observe Rose’s actions more clearly. There are a number of duplicitous acts that she pulls off, and audiences will be able to see how her hidden intent plays with a second watch.