The use of a false protagonist is a widely used technique within film and literature. The beginning of the story focuses on a character, tricking the audience into thinking that they are the focal point of the narrative, only to reveal soon after they were no more than a supporting player in the story.
Look no further than Game of Thrones’ Ned Stark. Stark’s storied past, strong links to the rest of the main characters and Sean Bean receiving top billing clearly set him up as the main character of the epic fantasy… right? It was the shock of all shocks when the figurehead of HBO’s new show lost his head just nine episodes into the first season. The use of a false protagonist was used to deliver a twist of titanic proportions and set up the rest of the storylines on which the rest of the series would be based.
Openings that utilize a false protagonist are a classic staple of the horror genre, although the reveal usually comes much sooner, often just minutes into the film. As such, it’s almost fair game to assume that the first person who appears on screen is likely to be toast within the first couple of minutes but several instances stand out where the focus of the audience’s attention noticeably met an unexpected grisly end.
In no particular order, here are some prevalent examples of what looked like the main character being shockingly shuffled off their mortal coil in the early going.
Evil Dead’s inclusion on this list is down to just how damn believable Phoenix Connolly’s performance is for her brief time on screen.
Connolly’s unnamed teenager is the first character to appear onscreen, seen wandering through the woods before being captured by two grimy men who curse her and knock her out. She comes to in a basement reminiscent of the deepest circle of hell; her own father prepares to burn her alive while a witch-like old woman wails incantations from a manuscript resembling light reading for the Antichrist.
The innocent nature of the character, coupled with Connolly’s exemplary performance conveying paralytic fear with every petrified whimper, meant that the audience was incredibly invested with her already; there was almost a subconscious hope that she must be the main character, just so that she might avoid such a horrendous fate, let alone discover the circumstances that had led her here.
Horror films are no place for sentimentality however and even as her father sets her ablaze, Connolly’s face morphs into an absolutely hellish visage, revealing herself to be possessed by a demon; the desperate, wide eyed innocence was no more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing act.
Not only was Connolly not the main character, she was in the thrall of the movie’s primary antagonist.