Chekhov's plot is coming from *inside the house*
January 18, 2022 4:55 PM   Subscribe

I like a particular trope in (typically spooky) shows where the the big evil thing/twist is subtly introduced right from the start, but you probably won't pick up on the clues until you're a good way through it. This is an I'm-asking-for-recommendations question, so I guess be careful clicking through if you're very spoiler sensitive.

This was done almost to perfection in The Haunting of Hill House with the stomach room. On a re-watch, well of course! There it is, so easy to see in the set, so many clues in the dialog. But it was introduced so gently and subtly you'd hardly even notice. The Sixth Sense did this thing pretty well, too.

I know a lot of horror does this a little bit, but I like it when the thing is RIGHT there, introduced from the start, integrated consistently throughout the show, and subtle. I would like to be at least halfway through before I get the "hey wait a minute" feeling.

Anyway, I would like your recommendations for more stuff with this trope please.

Books good, movies better, short-run tv shows best.
posted by phunniemee to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
El Orfanato does this extremely, devastatingly, well.
posted by Paragon at 5:24 PM on January 18 [6 favorites]

The Good Place has a great example of this.
posted by Mchelly at 5:29 PM on January 18 [12 favorites]

Who is Keyser Soze? (The Usual Suspects) is a famous non-horror example of this, if I understand you correctly.

TV Tropes calls this a Rewatch Bonus
posted by Monochrome at 5:39 PM on January 18 [4 favorites]

This is one of Gene Wolfe's favorite devices. In like chapter 1 of The Book of the New Sun the narrator basically says "by the way I'm the emperor now," but it's really easy to get lost in the larger mess of narrative detail and completely forget that. The big picture doesn't really come into focus until much later (and of course on a re-read everything takes on a new significance).

I think he has written some squarely horror-genre stuff, but I don't know if I've read any of it.
posted by grobstein at 5:51 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]

The movie The Prestige might be what you're looking for.
posted by ashbury at 6:57 PM on January 18 [12 favorites]

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears is a good example of this.
posted by holborne at 7:03 PM on January 18 [4 favorites]

In the mystery genre, this is referred to as a "fair play mystery;" since mystery and horror literature/film saw a lot of development around the same time, it's not surprising to see it it in both.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:19 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]

Slade House is really good at this.
posted by missmobtown at 7:28 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]

Knives Out is like this - I was amazed what I picked up on the second time I watched it.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:38 PM on January 18 [7 favorites]

You don’t mention video games, but Doki Doki Literature Club is a good example. Best to avoid spoilers, and even skip the content warning if you’re comfortable doing so. Can be completed in one sitting.
posted by ejs at 8:17 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]

The Untamed (Don't read the cast/character list if you don't want major spoilers)
posted by Nickel at 9:55 PM on January 18

Nick Harkaway’s Gone-Away World. Spectacular case of a particular version of this.

Also several of Dorothy Dunnett’s mystery novels, published under a couple sets of titles including "Dolly and the […] Bird".
posted by clew at 12:22 AM on January 19 [5 favorites]

Ed lists the key plot points of Shaun of the Dead early in the film in the form of a planned bar crawl. There is a similar list in The World's End.
posted by biffa at 12:52 AM on January 19 [2 favorites]

Too Many Cooks does this in a very absurdist way. Be sure to watch it through a second time.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:54 AM on January 19 [2 favorites]

The Sixth Sense
Netflix's Black Mirror S3E4 "San Junipero"
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:08 AM on January 19

When I first saw Fight Club I was completely surprised by the twist.

The second time I saw Fight Club, I was completely surprised by how "obvious" the clues were that they seeded through the movie.

During subsequent viewings I was not surprised but still enjoyed marking the places where the twist was telegraphed.
posted by theorique at 5:31 AM on January 19 [2 favorites]

I'm a giant horror nut but for whatever reason the first thing that came into my head was Wandavision!
posted by cakelite at 7:53 AM on January 19

Triangle does this. I love recommending this movie. Everyone should see it. Don't watch a trailer or even read a description. If you're okay with an R-rated horror/thriller, just watch it. The payoff is much denser and richer than a person would guess.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:56 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]

For a non-horror based example, consider Disney's Gravity Falls. There's a central mystery to the series and there are some really obvious clues scattered around in each episode but they don't really stand out until after you've seen the big reveal.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 8:16 AM on January 19 [2 favorites]

I've cited Pamela Dean's fantasy Tam Lin as an example of a book that changes profoundly on rereading. The first time through, the big doings seem to come up abruptly. The second time through, you realize that the author has been seeding things since pretty much page one.
posted by PussKillian at 8:23 AM on January 19 [2 favorites]

Mr. Robot is another non-horror example, and the thing is definitely integrated into the plot of the show. Doesn't quite fit what you are looking for as the reveal is certainly not more than halfway through -- but it's a show that spanned 4 seasons and 45 episodes, so it's not as though the reveal happens right away. I don't remember exactly but I'm pretty sure the big reveal was towards the end of the first season, though maybe some people might pick up on the hints sooner -- I know someone who claims they picked it up from the very beginning, but they also said that they had watched it before but had forgotten what the story was, so I think that it actually being a rewatch for them was a factor there.

The first season does end on a satisfying note if you feel you got your RIGHTTHERE out of it and want to move on.
posted by yohko at 8:53 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]

I think Memento does this
posted by plonkee at 9:26 AM on January 19 [2 favorites]

The Squid Games.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:43 AM on January 19

Russel T. Davies era Dr Who does this quite a bit at the season level.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:07 AM on January 19

Jeff Vandermeer does this in Authority. He talks in an interview about how he put 'deliberate but subtle continuity mistakes' into the novel, inspired by the continuity errors in Kubrick's The Shining. Most of these are tiny details, like the arrow pattern on a carpet that mysteriously changes direction ('pointing towards the courtyard' in one scene, 'pointing in from the courtyard' 100 pages later); the idea is that you won't notice them consciously but, as they start to pile up, you'll get an uncomfortable feeling that something isn't right.
posted by verstegan at 12:00 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]

If you'd like a light-hearted anime example, I think Yuri on Ice would count. The "big twist" is there, but you don't see it because of the unreliable narrator describing events in a different interpretation.

For a less light-hearted example, Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Both the cute animal companion, Kyubey, and the mysterious girl, Homura, would fit this style of reveal. There was a thread on tumblr a while back about a person watching early scenes with a reaction of "Oh, no! Poor [character] is hurt!" and ending the series with a "That wasn't enough. Hit them again!"

The Promised Neverland is also an example of this, though the reveal is relatively quick in that case. (Too bad we never got a second season of that...)
posted by past unusual at 12:09 PM on January 19

I was going to mention Triangle as well, but that’s been my answer to everything lately so I held back.

Another great example is One Cut of the Dead.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:14 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

Also Time Lapse, Convergence, and Wandavision.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:21 PM on January 19

I'll also second Wandavision but really, the only reason I came here is to thank you for giving me a beautiful, needed, deep laugh with your post title.
posted by dngrangl at 1:00 PM on January 19

This is a bit of a sideways answer but Columbo episodes can be quite good for this. Granted, they literally show you who did it in the first five minutes, but you spend the rest of the episode trying to take the clues you’re given to discover how Columbo will figure it out.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:09 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]

"Frailty," starring Matthew McCounaghey and Bill Paxton, fits for me. It is horror-ish for sure.

And "Fallen" starring Denzel Washington isn't quite on the mark, but at the very end it makes you think "Oh, I should have seen that coming..." in the same way.
posted by tacodave at 3:02 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]

I think many Twilight Zone episodes fall into this realm
posted by watrlily at 4:53 PM on January 19

On the rom-com side, I recently discovered Fleabag.
posted by bendy at 8:51 PM on January 19

Westworld fits this to a T. In fact, they reward watching the first couple of episodes right after the last episode of season one.
posted by foxtongue at 9:52 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

Seconding One Cut of the Dead!
posted by kittensyay at 1:30 PM on January 20

In the (violent, excellent) Netflix series Squid Game there are visual elements that foreshadow the plot, and thematic elements that foreshadow the outcome of each character’s storyline.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 10:32 PM on January 20

I'm a little late, but I just finished The Last House on Needless Street and it reminded me of your question.
posted by at 1:28 PM on January 31

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