I strongly believe that the so created mystery genre isn’t the ideal move. As a cinema goer, I feel every story, every character has a mystery in itself, which is pursued in many different manners. While some opt to wrap it in humor, some choose to cloth this irresistible secret in tense, atmospheric storytelling. At the heart of it, all remains a similarly created and sought after puzzle, yearning to a resolution.
Some of the movies that feature in this list belong to the said description of mystery films. To the risk of becoming one-dimensional and universally inaccessible, we also have picked out choices that follow a rather conventional, generic style, although the quality with which they’re executed is top-notch. Here’s the list of best murder mystery movies of 2019.
10. The Vanishing
Do not confuse this 2019 feature with, or as a remake of, the 1998 Dutch masterpiece ‘Spoorloos’. While both the films are slow-burns, tempting and flirting with the viewer gracefully, the cinematic impact remains starkly different. The 2019 film is directed by newcomer Krystoff Nyholm and boasts of a starry cast, led by the trio of Gerard Butler, Olafur Olafson (TV show ‘Trapped’), and Peter Mullan. The cryptic premise revolves around the arrival of three lighthouse keepers on a deserted and remote island. Each of the three arrives with different motivations and skillsets. Their personal struggle intertwines with a washed-up treasure that captures the intrigue of the men and spirals them into a violent frenzy that comes to a shocking conclusion.
‘The Vanishing’ plays cleverly on the originality of its concept and harbors some genuinely vulnerable and haunting sequences. The climax is so brutal and unexpected, you almost jump out of your seat and gasp at its absurdity and significance for Butler’s character. Without a fully developed and foolproof narrative, Nyholm’s maiden venture into the unknown is ably supported by a magnificent cast and powerful tunes.
9. Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark
A group of four friends visits a dilapidated and abandoned house that is apparently haunted by the ghost of Sarah Bellows. Initially harmless, Stella’s decision to unearth and reopen Sarah’s personal diary eventually threatens to be fatal and all-consuming. Each night after Halloween, it writes itself a story in blood about a member of the group that visited the house and predicts, correctly, their fateful demise. In an attempt to stop the menace, Stella embarks on uncovering the truth behind the folklore of Sarah’s death.
As a mainstream, commercial entertainer, ‘Scary Stories’ succeeds in almost every aspect. With almost no seriousness and ambition to make itself more than a generic Halloween fable, ‘Scary Stories’ evokes some genuine scares and valuable intrigue. Despite its restrictions, ‘Scary Stories’ packs a solid punch, owing to its nightmarish images and gnarly monsters.
8. The Dead Center
‘The Dead Center’ presents a wild fantasy-like world where dead people aren’t really dead. The protagonist, a Jon Doe. wakes in a frenzy from the morgue he’s placed in and proceeds to come across psychiatrist Daniel. At the same time, the coroner who signed off his death certificate begins an investigation in the sudden disappearance of the dead body. Both inquiries lead to a puzzling revelation, one that might not pass them as the same.
There are sheer moments of brilliance within the storytelling that really catch you by surprise. The conclusion of the concentric circles might be talked about for a long time. But it is the inconsistency in the story that withholds ‘Dead Center’ from truly blossoming into a full-blooded mystery.
7. The Souvenir
Male toxicity has become an important point of discussion in contemporary dialogue on the prevention of abuse in relationships. Quite often one might not realize that they are a part of one, despite feeling sad and trapped all the time, due to the fear of loneliness and abandonment. Joanna Hogg’s intimate semi-biographical film focuses on a protagonist in a similar position. Jule comes from affluent family background and pursues a career in film making. At a party, she comes across a charming, authoritative mysterious figure who instantly woos her. His eccentric and selfish behavior increasingly becomes intolerable for Julie, who reconsiders their relationship.
It is quite easy to misconstrue and simply write off Hogg’s exploration of her early struggles as a study in self-pity. Julie, while seemingly seems to be a rather naive and amateurish adult for her age, she is a reflection of similarly placed millions around the world. ‘The Souvenir’ presents an opportunity for Hogg to craft a poignant, at times shocking, portrayal of how abuse in a relationship can devour a person’s inner strength and will, rendering them completely out of their wits and vulnerable. Tim Burke deserves all the awards but won’t win any.
6. We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Sisters Mary and Constance are seen to be living in a burnt house but carry their daily routines seemingly unaffected. The story then flashes back sometime in the past to a delightful, luxurious Blackwood edifice of power, authority, and immense jealousy. The family is infamous in the town they inhabit as being the object of universal hate. The members seldom step out of the house, leaving them isolated and unhappy. The arrival of Charles, cousin to the sisters, marks a great change in the fortunes of the family for the worse.
Shirley Jackson’s 1962 novel inspires the plot of the film. Alexandria Daddario and Taissa Farmiga play the two leads with contrasting personalities to perfection. Their chemistry and dedication to each of their individual personas reap great rewards, as the mystery that brews within the story’s core benefits greatly due to their good work. A neatly written and performed mystery film that is deceptively layered and will catch you unawares with its brilliance.
5. Ready or Not
‘Ready or Not’ proves to be an engaging blend of mainstream genres and conducts itself with great balance and restraint. Housing a vague family and their abnormal predilections, ‘Ready or Not’ follows the story of a newly wedded Grace, who finally marries her dream-man, Daniel. The journey of their life that looms to begin subsequently, has to first, pass the litmus test of Daniel’s family. This is the part that might never allow the two to experience this life of unison. Boorish, relentless, and thoroughly enjoyable, ‘Ready or Not’ easily makes for one of the most entertaining watches of the year.
4. Long Day’s Journey Into Night
In a frenzy, as he recovers from a dream about her, Luo gingerly falls back into reality. The shape of her body seems to have permanently clung on to his memory, relentlessly pursuing his attention and heart. He makes his way back to where it all started- Kaili- the place that hosted their passionate love affair. Bi Gan grew up in the town of Kaili and narrates the story in a dream-like, hypnotic structure that at once is harrowing and irresistible.
Such is the sophistication with which Gan narrates ‘Long Day’s Journey’ that distinguishing the past and present, reality and fiction, becomes an impossible task. The mystery that it hides so well beneath its surrealist cover expands to cover everything under its cinematic sun, eclipsing the altruistic and brief premise. Gan’s unique framing, drenched with evocative colors, brings together a gorgeous visual appeal that the film carries until its last-minute. Bela Bartok’s Hungarian-Chinese fusion makes for one of the best background scores of the year.
Gan’s thorough understanding of every crevice, every inch of Kaili’s majestic landscape truly transforms the city into a character in the story. His romanticism constantly endows Luo’s desperate howl with such wonderful visual appeal, you can’t help but give in to its charms.
While ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ might be incomprehensible to the larger audience, its niche target viewers will remember it as a modern masterpiece that dictates the pumping of their blood, the wildness of their imagination, and the meaning of their existence as it gradually burns to its resolution. This movie will undoubtedly be in discussions about the best movies of this century for many, many years to come.
3. High Life
Claire Denis’ return to the screen this year evoked a lot of passion from her admirers. Even for the best of them, ‘High Life’ proved to be a challenging watch. The cryptic space-opera ranked as one of the most bewildering and polarizing movies of the year. This human spaceflight exploration saga is surprisingly inherently funny. Although Denis has often refrained from actively pursuing any humor veins in her topography, ‘High Life’ is full of them.
At the very core of her exploration are the value of time and the beauty of inevitability of life to us. The doomed spaceship is incompetent to make a return flight back to earth. The living occupants can’t seem to figure out a way to escape the suction of the black hole, leaving them with an air of uncertainty in terms of their immediate fates, though the eventual result won’t change. Pattinson’s intriguing take on a criminal who has left his guilt behind on earth makes for an exemplary character study. With a director like Denis, you can always expect actors to go the extra mile. And Pattinson does exactly that.
His growing stature is only furthered by another complete performance. Mia Goth doesn’t have a lot of screen time but reaffirms herself as a major superstar. Overall, the sophistication of Claire’s vision might be at once its greatest downfall and biggest temptation.
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Ari Aster is the new cult that Hollywood can’t stop talking about. His fanatic admirers defend and aggrandize his brand so staunchly and intensely, you almost wonder what’s wrong with them. But like his admirers, Aster’s vision in ‘Midsommar’ certainly evokes mixed feelings of confusion and disgust, all bound by a genuinely shocking storyline. As the title suggests, the film revolves around a trip that a group of four friends and Dani take to Sweden during midsummer for celebrating a tradition that repeats itself every 90 years. What seems initially to be a fun time hanging with friends, doing drugs, and possibly getting lucky, down spirals into a harrowing cult-inspired tragedy.
There’s something about both ‘Hereditary’ and ‘Midsommar’ that is inexplicable. Aster seems to have a unique modus operandi that is inherently challenging for the masses, yet retains elements of ceremonial devices used in films for poetic expressionism. ‘Midsommar’s core layout mirrors Dani and Christian’s personal relationship and its deteriorating stages. Aster reaffirms the notion of this perspective when he described the movie as “Dani’s fairytale and but folk horror for everybody else” in an interview.
The mystery of the cult becomes apparent from the first group dances the inhabitants do when the outsiders first arrive. Aster actually gives away the entire story through the opening shot, the mural, that depicts all the events in different stages of the summer. It’s hard to figure what goes on in Aster’s mind when he writes the scenes of old people falling to their death off a cliff to the cheers and celebratory formalities from relatives.
Without a definitive protagonist or antagonist, Aster’s attempt to leave the movie open to interpretation and heavily rely on the viewer’s personal experiences walks a tight rope between derivative and innovative rather well. ‘Midommar’s magic lies in its ability to astonish and catch you unaware with its voguish creator’s twisted sense of expression but might frustrate with its occasional cynicism. If you’re looking for anything normal, tread with caution.
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Jordan Peele’s explosion on the major stage with ‘Get Out’ last year set the ball rolling for a Peele juggernaut that hopefully doesn’t stop anytime soon. Just like ‘Get Out’, ‘Us’ continues his brand of hard-hitting and gripping storylines that certainly mean more than their face values. Lupita Nyong’o’s force of nature performance steers Peele’s ship of macabre and the unknown with great precision and impact. The duality in her persona is represented well in both of her characters. The plot revolves around Adelaide Wilson’s traumatic childhood experience and the subsequent revisit to the place of the tragedy.
Taking ‘Us’ simply on its face-value might defeat the purpose and intent with which Peele wrote the script. His personal expression of the inequity and social divide between the rich and the poor, race relations, and the institutionalization of neglect of the marginalized makes for an eye-opening marvel. Add to that his quirky skill to carve out a thrilling, atmospheric story, and you get a memorable experience worth revisiting.
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