The Usual Suspects – Use Of Red Herrings and Twist Endings

*Ridiculous spoiler alert! If you haven’t seen this 18 year-old movie, you decide whether or not to keep reading.

animated suspects

This is one of my favorite movies. Maybe not in my top five, but definitely my top ten. From what I gather when talking about the movie with people, your enjoyment of this movie will largely depend on what you think of the twist ending. Some people say the ending is all that makes the movie, and therefore it’s just a gimmick movie. I don’t know if I’d go that far. In my opinion, gimmick twist endings are ones you see coming. You may not necessarily be able to call it, but you know a twist ending is coming, and when it finally comes, it invariably sucks.

Obviously, the best twist endings are the ones you don’t see coming. You have to be invested in the characters and the story enough that you’re not looking for a twist. I think that gets lost on people sometimes. It seems like people use them as a sort of crutch or a safety net to save a lesser quality book/movie, not realizing you can’t…polish a turd (sorry, it’s the best I can do off the top of my head).

For those who don’t know, a ‘Red Herring‘ is a term to describe a plot device that serves to mislead the audience, and facilitate plot twists.  Since I started writing again, all the TV procedurals I used to watch with one eye open are now more interesting as I watch them with a more discerning eye, looking to see who they frame as the killer,  who they show as the plausible suspect, and who ends up being the actual killer.

My wife can call these shows like a psychic. 10 minutes in, the cops will be interviewing someone, and she’ll call out, “he did it!” and I’ll think, really? Eh, maybe. Then 45 minutes later I look over at her like, Holy crap! How did you do that?

In the past 15 (or so) years, when you mention a twist ending most people will think of The Sixth Sense. This relates to what I was talking about earlier; the foundation has to be solid, so people aren’t necessarily looking for a twist ending. That movie is perfectly plausible and interesting all the way to said twist, so when it’s revealed it’s especially surprising.

Which leads me back to The Usual Suspects. It leads you along a very believable trail before letting you know it was a huge  smokescreen and that you, along with the interrogating officer, have been duped. But depending on how invested you are in what you’re watching, you’re either left with your jaw hanging open, or you sigh and let out a disgusted pfft!

I’m curious, what are some of your favorite plot twists in books/movies?

Or, perhaps more interestingly, what are some of your least favorite plot twists?


Published by Kenneth Jobe

Kenneth Jobe is a writer, photographer, musician, and Native Californian living in the Midwest with his wife and son. His fiction has been published in Jitter, The Rusty Nail, Ghostlight: The Magazine of Terror, and the horror anthology Robbed of Sleep, Volume 2.

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