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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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    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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    1 of 30

    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).

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    The Invitation (2016)
    Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Michiel Huisman, Tammy Blanchard, Emayatzy Corinealdi
    Directed by: Karyn Kusama
    Written by: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi

    It's been two years since a tragic accident killed Will (Marshall Green) and Eden's (Blanchard) young son in their Hollywood Hills home. Their marriage soon dissolved and, in an effort to move on, lost touch with one another. The movie begins with Will driving to his old house with his new girlfriend Kira (Corinealdi) — they've been invited to a dinner party, even though he hasn't heard from his ex-wife or her new husband in months.

    Things start out warm enough, even as the stylishly modern house manages to dig up pained memories for Will. Then, out of the corner of his eye Will notices Eden's new husband David (Huisman) casually lock doors and cabinets. There are other couples there (old friends of Will and Eden's when they were married), good food, ritzy wine... it's a nice enough evening, albeit a bit awkward. Suddenly, the tone shifts. This isn't a reunion, it's a recruiting session for a cult.

    A new, unfamiliar guest arrives. Everyone nestles into the living room and David asks them to keep an open mind as they watch a documentary of sorts. In the movie, a creepy pastor talks a dying woman through the end of her life. The couples all recoil, until the unfamiliar guest gives a kind of testimonial about loving his dead wife so much, and how this quasi-spirituality helped him overcome her death. The twist? He was the one who went to prison for killing her.

    From there, Kusama perfectly manipulates the tension. Doors lock and unlock, and Will confronts Eden about blocking out their son's death between flashbacks of their former life together. In the thrilling climax they sit down to dinner. Eden serves a special drink. Will can't take it anymore — he demands everyone throw it out, and begs his girlfriend to leave with him. Just as he seems crazy, someone takes a sip and dies instantly. Will was right, the drink was poison.

    The "invitation" was really an entry into a murder-suicide pact. Will and his girlfriend run frantically through his old house to escape Eden and David's wrath.

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    Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
    Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal, Sandy Dennis
    Directed by: Mike Nichols
    Written by: Ernest Lehman

    Married couple George (Burton) and Martha (Taylor) arrive home from a party. Martha informs George that she’s invited a younger couple that she met there — Nick (Segal) and Honey (Dennis) — over for more drinks. Everyone is already quite drunk, but George and Martha get increasingly more drunk and verbally abusive towards one another.

    Honey says that Martha told her about she and George’s son upcoming 16th birthday. This angers George. Honey runs to the bathroom to throw up from drinking too much. The night goes on and on with more upsetting moments.

    George and Martha engage in a series of increasingly escalating games of psychological manipulation that makes their guests feel more and more uneasy. Finally, it becomes clear to Nick and Honey that the overarching game is for George and Martha to invent more and more details about their imaginary son, but to never mention his existence to anyone else. It seems that Martha lost this round, because she answers the title question, saying "I am."