Calista’s Cinema Conversations: Murder mysteries


This weeks conversation is dedicated to murder mystery films. (theilr/Flickr Creative Commons)

This weeks conversation is dedicated to murder mystery films. (theilr/Flickr Creative Commons)

This week, I have been thinking about how detectives used to solve murders before modern technology. This got me thinking about how certain films choose to depict or reveal a murder, as most movies want to keep you guessing until the end. So, I have decided to dedicate this week to murder mystery films.

I want to first talk about the movie that got my wheels turning (even though it isn’t technically a murder mystery if audiences know the urban legend): Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow.” The film alluded to much of the modern homicide investigative practices at that time, as the main character was a police detective, which aided the film’s more gothic, late 19th-century atmosphere.

Another film that looks at the common detective practices of its time is “Shutter Island.” In the genre of murder mystery, this film may be of the most notable, and the ending is still debated to this day. Looking not just at the common detective procedure of the 1950s, when the story takes place, it also delves into the prevalent psychiatric care used at the time—the prominent and extremely controversial “insane asylums.”

A more futuristic take on the genre is “Minority Report,” but the mystery is not who committed the murder; instead, it is why they plan to. The film’s themes bring controversy upon new technology, especially regarding the ethical issues that would arise if humans were able to create something that could punish a person before the person actually committed the crime. The director splits away from the formulaic murder mystery plot to put a spin on modern crime solving.

Another movie in this genre is the outrageously true film “Zodiac,” based on the actual Zodiac Killer. This movie stands out from most other films of its kind due to its factual relaying of the series of events, and because the mystery is still unsolved to this day. Getting down to the nitty gritty of the shocking case, “Zodiac” uses its star-studded cast to shine a light on the unsolved murders.

“Gone Girl” and “The Usual Suspects” were two unexpectedly good watches that did not shy away from their amazing use of unreliable narration. “Gone Girl” gave the audience not one but two narrators, telling their side of the events that took place before and after the murder. What makes this form of narration so amazing is that it is the narrator, not the suspect, that is untrustworthy. Adversely, “The Usual Suspects” does give audiences an account of a murder by one of four suspects. This is not what makes the movie good, it is the grand, unexpected plot twist.

In order for a film to fit the criteria of a well-done murder mystery, it needs to have an original and unexpected plot, one that is narrated in a way that keeps the audience guessing. Still, there is something very intriguing about following the mystery; it makes audience have to draw their own conclusions while guiding them to the right answer.

Calista Giroux is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at

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