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"The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying."

Say you're watching that new thriller that everyone's been talking about. You've heard nothing but praise for its uncompromising brutality, Emotional Torque, and ability to mess with the audience, but so far nothing you've seen gives even a remote indication of why--

Whoa. That's why.

You've just been hit with the Gut Punch: the single moment when a work makes it abundantly clear that the gloves are off. This is where you figure out that playtime is over: Plot Armor has been switched off, the hero won't be getting up from that No-Holds-Barred Beatdown anytime soon, Anyone Can Die, and the bad guy winning has become a very real possibility. Maybe It Got Worse, maybe it was always that bad and just forgot to tell the audience. Either way, this is a clear indication that the creator has decided to get dangerous and that those who haven't prepared will not be pleased.

This can be a somewhat subjective trope, but the general idea is that a single moment instantly and clearly establishes that the tone of the work as a whole is fundamentally darker than what the audience has been led to expect. If there's a particularly dark moment in a show that then reverts to being somewhat lighter, it's not this trope.

Sub Trope of It Got Worse, Cerebus Syndrome, Darker and Edgier, and Mood Whiplash. Super Trope to Sacrificial Lion, Wham! Line, Kill the Cutie, Decoy Protagonist, and Wake Up Call Boss. The Knight of Cerebus, Tragic Monster, and the Hero-Killer are three characters extremely likely to cause this. Sometimes related to Player Punch.

Spoilers ahoy!

Examples of Gut Punch include:


Anime and Manga

  • Legato's introduction in Trigun pulls this off in a single frame. It's a bright and sunny day, the kids are playing with Vash. Then out of nowhere, Legato. He killed and ate the friendly shopkeeper Vash was just speaking to, and feels it would be a downright shame if the little girl Vash just bought an ice cream for would have to be next. The entire scene is completely horrific, but what cements it as this is the opening shot of the usually lighthearted and goofy Vash looking legitimately terrified for the first time in the series that clearly indicates exactly how bad things are about to get.

  Legato: If I'd felt like it, all the people within a 50 meter range, in 0.2 seconds, would all be dead... In the next ten minutes, you'll learn the true meaning of hell."

Fan Fic

Film

  • The first 45 minutes of Audition could easily be mistaken for a romantic drama in which everything is slightly... off. Then we get Asami's Establishing Character Moment, which is so scary that it turns the next half hour of violence-free romance into pure terror.
  • The original Night of the Living Dead gets two back to back in the same sequence. First we get something that looks like this, specifically the deaths of Tom and Judy. In any other horror movie made at the time, that sequence alone would have been enough to qualify as this trope. It doesn't, but only because the real punch comes immediately afterward when we see an extremely graphic (for its day) image of the zombies chowing down on the recently charred corpses. Roger Ebert's reaction provides the page quote.
    • Adding to it was the fact there were children in the audience because this was before the MPAA rating. From his review:

 This was in a typical neighborhood theater, and the kids started filing in 15 minutes early to get good seats up front.

  • This is a major part of the reason for the fame of Psycho's iconic Shower Scene.
  • Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance has the little girl drowning offscreen, setting off the cycle of brutal revenge on both sides.
  • The events of Kung Fu Panda 2 actually start with Shen killing Master Rhino with his cannon in order to show how evil the peacock and his wolf army actually are.
  • The Dark Knight announces rather loudly that the gloves are off when we see The Joker's video of himself killing a Batman impersonator.
  • Gran Torino gives you one when Sue returns from the Hmong gangs brutally raped and beaten.
    • Clint Eastwood seems to really like this trope: Million Dollar Baby is a story of a waitress who wants to improve her life: she learns how to box and manages to achieve international fame up to fighting for world title which leaves her a quadriplegic for the last third of the movie.
  • Drive shifts fairly abruptly from being a low key character study to being a Bloodier and Gorier Roaring Rampage of Revenge crime story when Standard is killed, to reiterate the shift for anybody who wasn't clued in by that they splatter Blanche's brains all over the wall a few minutes later.
  • The death of Ironhide in Transformers: Dark Of The Moon.

Literature

Theatre

Video Games

  • Guild Wars opens in the fairly idyllic area of Ascalon - grass and flowers are everywhere, and enemies are easy and will generally not attack you unless provoked. Then the Searing happens, and you get out of the prologue.
  • Final Fantasy VI has one of the most famous video game examples, which occurs halfway through when Kefka destroys the world.
  • Final Fantasy VII features the reveal of the Big Bad's plan to end all life, his successful acquisition of the MacGuffin he needs to do it, and the death of the only character with a means to stop him, all in short sequence at the end of Disc 1 of 3 (which had been largely light and partly humorous up this point except for some angst in the backstories of party members).
  • Tales of the Abyss starts out as a typical cliche packed Shōnen adventure. Then, about a third of the way through the game, The Reveal occurs and we are subject to one of the most vicious examples of Break the Haughty ever seen in a game.
  • Vindictus starts out in a moderately Dark Fantasy world, but doesn't initially explain how it turns into the Low Fantasy Crapsack World that it's advertised as. Then less than halfway through the third major zone, Ainle, Ellis, the kid cadet who's always looked up to you, gets viciously beaten to death by a sadistic goblin warlord in a cutscene. And the name of the mission in which this happens? "Wake Up Call." Things don't really improve from there.
  • Yggdra Union waits until the player has been lulled into a suitable sense of security before it shows its true colors -- it seems upbeat enough for a medieval war game for two thirds of the plot. Then there's Battlefield 40, where you begin your invasion of The Empire for the sake of protecting The Kingdom, and have to slaughter an entire town of civilians determined to defend their homes. And it gets worse very quickly from here.
  • Digital: A Love Story starts off as a simple 1980's email simulator, then the players 'go to' website crashes, and they lose all contact with Emilia. They then receive an email from the websites administrator that reveals Emilia was sending them an email desperately begging for their help before the crash and things get very dark very quickly.
  • ZODIAC Virgo from RefleX delivered two substantial of these. The first when it shot down Cancer from behind and the second when it destroyed the Pheonix.
  • World of Warcraft gives you the events of the Wrathgate. The Forsaken unleash the New Plague. You now see it cause the senseless and meaningless deaths of some of the Horde's and Alliance's greatest heroes and shatter any chance of peace between the two factions. Oh, and if you're playing as Horde, you helped create the New Plague, in one of the more light-hearted questlines that go all the way back to the first levels.
  • In Mass Effect 1, you have a few missions trying to find out what Saren is up to, and a ton of sidequests mowing down violent criminals and terrorist cells with impunity. Then you have Virmire. No matter what you do, no matter how well you play, either Ashley or Kaidan will die. It's up to you to decide who performs the Heroic Sacrifice. You may have to put down Wrex as well, depending on your influence with him.

Webcomics

  • Order of the Stick: Due to Xykon's Laughably Evil tendencies, it's very easy to assume that he's not that much of a threat. However, during the invasion of Azure City, he swiftly reminds the audience exactly how dangerous he is by KILLING ROY..
  • In Our Little Adventure, the adventuring group has had a fairly easy time questing and defeating monsters...and then a special Monster of the Week appears and ends up killing Pauline...
  • Homestuck is pretty light material... right up until Jack Noir flips the fuck out and goes on a homicidal rampage, promoting himself instantly to Big Bad.
    • This also very suddenly demonstrates the darker turn the comic takes in Act 5 Act 2. (Spoilers in link) Despite the fact that he gets better, the main character dies onscreen with basically no warning right after a particularly lighthearted and charming sequence, and the girl who led him there responds with a smiling emoticon.

Western Animation

  • Re Boot: When Megabyte rockets Bob into the Web during their Enemy Mine situation, stranding him there before starting his conquest of Mainframe. We're led to believe that Guardian Enzo can protect the city, but then he loses a Game, his eye, and gets Time Skipped into a Nineties Anti-Hero.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender has an unusually late example at the end of season 2. Up until that point, the show had proven its willingness to tackle difficult subjects, but always ultimately ended in a relatively lighthearted way. In the season two finale, despite a great deal of foreshadowing Zuko refuses to take a Heel Face Turn and instead sides with Azula, the Fire Nation succeeds in taking over Ba Sing Se, held up as the Earth Kingdom's last defence, and just when a Hope Spot arrives in the form of Aang reaching the Avatar State, Azula attacks him mid-transformation, outright killing him, his life only spared by the magical water Katara had received from the northern water tribe. Where Season 1 ends with the heroes victorious, season 2 ends with them battered and broken and having lost much that they had gained.
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