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These Movies Will Hurt Your Brain (In A Good Way)

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    WARNING: So many spoilers ahead! Plot twists unraveled. Endings revealed. Proceed at your own risk.

    March 16 marks the 15th anniversary of the release of Christopher Nolan’s Memento, one of the greatest mindfuck movies of all time. What makes something a quality mindfuck movie? Sometimes, it’s a twist ending that seems to come out of nowhere and truly shocks you, because the reveal means you have to go back and rethink everything that happened during the course of the entire movie.

    Take The Sixth Sense, for example. After you found out that Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) was dead the entire time, you had to recall every scene in which you thought Dr. Crowe interacted with characters besides Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment). Nope; it turns out he only interacts with Cole after he gets shot in the beginning of the movie. He really has been dead the whole time. M. Night Shyamalan, you trickster, you.

    Other times, a movie fucks with your head from beginning to end. It leads you one way, then swerves sharply to the left. The plot isn't remotely linear, although it appeared to be (ahem, Triangle). Or you can’t even figure out what’s going on at all. Think Christopher Nolan’s Inception, or Shane Carruth's Primer.

    And then there are psychological thrillers like Black Swan and The Machinist, which trap the viewer inside a character’s breakdown without providing a complete picture of what’s happening. In the words of U2, “Now you're stuck in a moment, and you can’t get out of it.” Also in the words of U2: "Don't say that later will be better," because you'll be obsessing about what happened in that goddamn movie you just watched. (Sidenote: Is Bono a mindfuck movie prophet? Please discuss.)

    But when it comes to this magical mindfuckery that makes you wonder what you just watched for hours on end, why would you ever want to want to get out of these moments?

    And one more reminder that there are MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD — so major you may as well call them majorettes and stick 'em in front of a marching band twirling batons.



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    Sound Of My Voice (2012)

    This 2012 thriller starring Brit Marling will send you reeling. The film also stars Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicious as two journalists Peter and Lorna who attempt to infiltrate an insular cult in order to take it down. Marling plays Maggie, the leader of the cult. Maggie is from the year 2054, and she's here to collect a group of people to save the future world. Her followers wear all white and perform a super-secret special handshake. She's also wanted for several felonies.

    The mind fuckery in this movie never allows you to decide if Maggie is lying or not. First, you're with Peter and Lorna, doubting this snake oil-peddler. But when Peter starts to buy into Maggie's narrative, you begin to doubt your own conviction. Maybe Maggie is from the future.

    The moment of decision occurs when Maggie instructs Peter to kidnap a little girl — the girl is allegedly Maggie's mother. Will he comply? Yes. And then the big shocker happens: the little girl knows the cult's secret handshake. Ostensibly, the girl taught it to Maggie at some point in the future.

    But before you can say, "gee, that was a whammy," Maggie is arrested, courtesy of Lorna. And you, the viewer, still don't know who was lying and who was crazy.

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    The Prestige (2006)
    Starring: Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Christian Bale, Rebecca Hall
    Directed by: Christopher Nolan
    Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan

    Before there was Westworld, there was The Prestige, the movie that made absolutely no sense until it all made sense. Borne from the bananas brain of the Nolan brothers, the film focuses on two magicians, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale.) After coming up together as young magicians, the two engage in a violent rivalry.

    The big "huh?" of the film lies in Borden's "transported man" trick. Borden falls under the stage, and appears somewhere else in the theater entirely. Wow! Magic! Angier seeks to duplicate this trick, and he ultimately does by enlisting the help of Nikola Tesla. (Fun fact: David Bowie plays Tesla.)

    Tesla invents a machine that clones Angier. Here's how it works: the magician clones himself. The original Angier drops beneath the stage into a water tank, where he drowns. The clone appears somewhere else in the theater, wowing the audience. Okay, cool trick, but the cost is high. Every time Angier completes the trick, he kills himself, or a version of himself. The eye-opening visual of the film occurs when Borden chances upon all the water tanks that contain versions of Angier's dead body. Damn.

    Oh, but there's another twist. Want to know how Angier completed the trick? You may have seen this coming — I certainly didn't, but my father did. Angier had a twin the whole time, which is the oldest mind-fuck trick in the book. Nolan elevates that particular trick, which can seem a little cheap, by involving two separate women, both in love with Angier. The end of the movie reveals that the two women were actually in love with separate men, not the same man. (Mind. Blown.)

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    After Hours (1985)
    Starring: Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette, Linda Fiorentino, Tommy Chong, Cheech Marin
    Directed by: Martin Scorsese
    Written by: Joseph Minion

    Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) just really, really wants to go home. But this is New York City after hours, and only the weirdest and wackiest things happen.

    Hackett is a word processor (back in the 1980s, when jobs like that actually existed). He's bored by the corporate drudgery and the uptown apartment that bookend his days. When he meets a Marcy, a woman at a diner who seems to like the same books as him, he's intrigued. Later that night, he calls Marcy up and takes a cab downtown to meet her in Soho. That's when the fun begins.

    Everything goes from bad to worse for Hackett. First his cash flies out of the cab window, then he's freaked out by Marcy's weirdly intense roommate, Kiki. When he finally gets Marcy alone, she's busy rubbing some weird burn ointment on her body (but he can't really tell why). Soon enough he gets fed up and leaves. When he feels bad and returns a few hours later, Marcy has killed herself. So now he's broke, tired, and kind of on the lam, eventually taking refuge in a dive bar. Just as the Tim, the barkeep, agrees to lend Paul some money, it turns out the bartender's girlfriend killed herself in apartment in Soho. Yep, that's right: Marcy.

    But Tim is a nice guy, and says that Hackett can have some cash if he runs around the corner to Tim's apartment to grab his keys to the bar's register. Twist: there's been a series of robberies in the building, so when Tim's neighbors see Paul, they assume he's the burglar, fresh from a robbery. Paul narrowly escapes their clutches, but the neighbors organize into a witch hunt, putting up posters all around the neighborhood. He then tries to hide out at a Soho nightclub, where Kiki told Marcy she'd head later.

    From there, things only get weirder. One woman hits on Paul, another screams at him. When Paul asks a random guy on the street if he can crash at his apartment, the bespectacled man thinks Paul is trying to seduce him.

    Finally — finally! — Paul escapes the mob and ends up in the backseat of the van of the real robbers. He's embalmed in a papier-mâché statue (that's how he escaped the mob), and falls out of the truck bed. Where does he end up? At the golden gates of his midtown office building.

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    Se7en (1996)
    Starring: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Gwyneth Paltrow
    Directed by: David Fincher
    Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker

    William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is a careful, wise detective who is just a few days away from retiring. He's assigned to take a young rookie under his wing and show him the ropes of the gritty metropolis that's their turf. The young investigator, David Mills (Brad Pitt), is short-tempered and impatient, but eager to learn and get his hands dirty.

    The pair slowly stumble upon a series of murders all bound by one familiar thread: the seven deadly sins. An obese man was forced to eat himself to death (gluttony); a defense attorney has his insides taken out (greed). Soon enough, Somerset and Mills find a good lead. A man named John Doe (Kevin Spacey) has been checking out library books about serial murders. They settle on him as their prime suspect and try to track him down as the murders continue.

    After the fifth murder, a bloodied man meets Mills and Somerset at the police station, identifying himself as John Doe. He's been peeling off the skin on his fingertips all along, so it's impossible to perfectly ID his prints, but the men are convinced it's him. He promises to lead both detectives to the final two victims, but under very specific terms or he'll plead insanity.

    Per Doe's instructions, the two detectives accompany their captive to a remote desert location. A delivery truck meets them, handing Somerset a box. Inside is the head of Mills' wife (Gwyneth Paltrow). When Doe brags about killing her and says that she was secretly pregnant, and he killed her out of his own envy. Mills weeps and hold Doe at gunpoint. Somerset protests, but he shoots him six times. Doe is the final death of the seven, because he forced Mills to give into his own wrath.

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    Hard Candy (2005)
    Starring: Ellen Page, Patrick Wilson, Sandra Oh
    Directed by: David Slade
    Written by: Brian Nelson

    Patrick Wilson plays Jeff, a photographer with a thing for teenage girls. He's charming and good looking, but the set up is as creepy as it sounds. Jeff preys on young girls, messaging them online and cultivating fake relationships that he seems to hope will end with real sexual favors.

    Hayley is the latest girl talked into meeting him in person. But Hayley, who wears a notable red sweatshirt, has a plan of her own. She knows of Jeff's past transgressions with his victims, and she's decided to put a stop to it.

    Jeff, it turns out, doesn't just flirt with underage girls. He also rapes and kills them, according to Hayley's spying. When he lures her back to his apartment, she drugs and tortures him to get information about a dead teenage girl whose death she suspects he had a hand in.

    The tension in Hard Candy mounts with an eerie quickness, mostly because of the shifting power dynamic between Jeff and Hayley (the former thinks he's in control, the latter always is).