on February 5, 2009

The other night, my two oldest daughters and I went to see THE UNINVITED, a teen PG-13 horror flick that Artsy Daughter (formerly known as Brennan #2) wanted to see. (I’ve decided to adopt Natalie’s proclivity of naming children after their talent.)

Warning: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. But honestly, I don’t expect anyone here to see the movie, though it had its moments.

Athletic Daughter, 15, (formerly known as Brennan #1) hated the movie. The bulk of the movie was “okay” but she despised the ending. She was depressed, felt that the actress had to have been depressed to play that part, and was completely and totally unsatisfied.

Artsy Daughter, nearly 13, loved the movie. She wants to not only see it again, but to buy it when it comes out on DVD. She liked the bulk of the movie, but she LOVED the ending. She appreciated the twist and wants to see the movie again to find the clues.

THE UNINVITED is a standard teen horror flick, though I appreciated that there wasn’t the excessive blood and gore of the slasher films. This was more a psychological suspense movie so that alone had me interested. The acting was pretty good, the setting (Maine, I believe) was gorgeous, and the film itself was simple and tightly edited. Not a high-budget movie, but the setting and story didn’t need it.

Anna is released from a mental institution and we learn pretty quick that she was there because she attempted suicide after her mother was killed in an accidental explosion. But when she goes home, she discovers that her mother’s nurse has moved into her father’s bedroom, and she and her older sister Alex are putting together clues that suggest that the nurse Rachel is not who she says she is and may have caused the explosion that killed their mother.

Anna doesn’t remember what happened that night, but bits and pieces have come through in her dreams. Yet when she returns home, stranger things begin to happen. She begins to see ghosts. Her mother’s ghost points to Rachel; the ghost of her three children haunt Anna in her dreams and during her waking hours. She sees things that aren’t there, she’s fearful, but determined to get to the truth. With Alex’s help, she researches past murders and becomes convinced that Rachel was a nanny who killed three children after becoming obsessed with their father. There is a great SIXTH SENSE type twist at the end, but thinking back there were some flaws in the structure as well.


In the end, we learn that Alex is in fact dead–she died in the same explosion that killed their mother–and it was caused because Anna walked in on her father and Rachel having sex; went to the generator room beneath the boat house that her terminally ill mother was living in; filled a watering can with gasoline in order to burn down the house with her cheating father inside; the spout dripped; and Alex (who was drunk) accidentally knocked over a lantern which ignited the gasoline and caused the explosion. Anna halfway to the house when it happened and instantly knew what happened. Then we find out that Alex was dead the whole time, and not a ghost but in Anna’s head–that Anna had done a series of bad/strange things and ultimately hacked up Rachel and put her in a garbage bag. But there were some strange happenings — like why did Anna go to the police trying to convince them that Rachel was a Mildred Kemp, a murderess? Why did she kill her former boyfriend Matt who claimed he saw what happened, but who was willing to meet her alone? Did she really think she saw the dead people? How delusional was she? If she had the whole murder planned, then everything we saw through her eyes was lying to the viewer–it was a scam. But if she didn’t plan the murder–if in fact she was psychotic and really believed she saw/heard dead people–then the question is, is she truly insane because she believed she was killing Rachel in self-defense? At the end we find out that Mildred Kemp is a patient in the same psycho ward that Anna was in–which is how Anna learned about the dead children. If it WAS a scam on Anna’s part, then the entire movie was a scam on viewers. If she truly believed in Rachel’s guilt, then it wasn’t a scam, but a cool twist at the end.

I was intrigued from an intellectual standpoint–but Athletic Daughter felt cheated, and Artsy Daughter thought the whole thing was cool and new. (She also read the SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS books when she was in 3rd and 4th grade and loved them because bad things happened and the endings weren’t always “happy.” I’d argue that they WERE happy because the Baudelaire children always slipped away from Count Olaf . . . )

In romance, we’re guaranteed an happily ever after because that is the story promise. The primary difference between a love story and a romance is that in the former, there is a true love story, but the ending is sad or bittersweet; in the latter there is a love story, but the ending is happy.

In mysteries, we’re guaranteed a resolution to the crime. I read a book last year in the Thriller Awards–a really good book–that I wanted to tear apart at the end because the author left a major story thread unsolved. On purpose. I understand that not all crimes are solvable, but this one was a MAJOR part of the character’s drive and I felt CHEATED that the thread was not resolved.

In thrillers, we’re guaranteed that the good guys will stop the bad guys from destroying the building/city/country/planet. But if Holly was killed by Hans in DIE HARD, it wouldn’t matter if John McClane stopped the bad guys from getting away with their crime: we would have felt cheated.

My good friend Edie Ramer (an American Title finalist!!) hated the ending of THE DEPARTED and was mad at me because I recommended the movie. THE DEPARTED remains one of my favorite all-time movies. The ending is bittersweet, but in my opinion it couldn’t have happened any other way. It was brilliant all the way around, from the story to the acting to the editing to the filming. I love that movie. Edie loved the movie . . . up until the ending which ruined the entire experience for her. She felt cheated when a character she cared about died. I didn’t feel cheated–I had already bought into the world and knew that everyone, even characters I cared about, were at risk.

Endings are critical, and I’ve been thinking a lot about them as I begin work on my Seven Deadly Sins series. This is a closed series–meaning, there is a seven-book story arc, and the bad guys are not going to be stopped (at least not all of them) until the last book. There will be a complete story and resolution in each book, but the reader will know that it’s not THE END–that there is something even more deadly out there to be tackled by my characters. The main villain will not be captured at the end of book one, and there’ll be successes and losses on both sides.

In my romantic thrillers, though people die–even some of the good guys–readers know that the hero and heroine will survive and the villain will be caught (and as my mother tells me, I kill off every one of my villains and she asks where I got this violent streak . . . but I digress.) A man and woman who come together in love and respect, and justice served, is my story promise. Everyone else? Well, don’t count on anything.

I have many favorite endings, and not all are traditionally “happy.” In CASABLANCA, Rick doesn’t get the girl . . . but he does the right thing. Bittersweet. One of my all-time favorite movies. THE DEPARTED: the good guy doesn’t survive, but justice is served on the bad guy, in spades. I love that ending. In THE SIXTH SENSE, Bruce Willis learns he’s dead at the end . . . but there is peace for him and for the boy. In THE MATRIX, Neo dies . . . and is reborn. Honestly, one of my favorite movies–and endings–of all time. (Hmm, I should do an entire blog on that movie!)

In romance, FRENCH KISS and WORKING GIRL are two of my favorite movies and the endings are pitch perfect. GONE WITH THE WIND? I HATED the ending. Primarily because I really didn’t like Scarlett. I understood her but I just wanted her to grow up. Yeah, yeah, yeah, there was no other way to end it . . . but frankly, Scarlett, you’re a bitch.

So, what’s your favorite “bittersweet” ending and your favorite “happy” ending?