Throughout history audiences have never been able to get enough a good murder mystery. We see the concept employed in a multitude of different genres and in a multitude of different ways. Whether it’s the grim and stomach churning quest for a killer in David Fincher’s Se7en to Eddard Stark’s slow discovery of who killed Jon Arryn in the first season of Game of Thrones, murder and mystery go hand in hand and viewers lap it up.
While most certainly not the first, perhaps the most iconic of murder mysteries is Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. First published in 1952, the stage play is the longest running West End show, and while the big twist ending remains almost entirely unspoiled despite its continued popularity, a lot of the stereotypes and concepts we conjure up when we think of murder mysteries comes from here.
In fact, I think it’s safe to say Christie’s work is almost entirely where our collective stereotype of the murder mystery sub-genre originates. She may not have been the first to employ the concept, but she’s without a doubt the one who popularised and cemented a style to it, which is a fact writers Tim Davis and David Palamaro seem all too aware of with their feature Murder Made Easy.
The movie makes reference to Christie on more than one occasion, at one point even singling out The Mousetrap, but it never quite achieves the gravitas that Christie was able to bring to her stories. There’s something about Christie’s work that feels grandiose, even when its confined to a small, isolated and claustrophobic location, as so much of it is. But Murder Made Easy doesn’t have the level of poetry or skill Christie had, and so it never elevates to much beyond a simple sort of half inspired by thing.
In fact, it sort of tries so hard to bring a new, almost “meta” concept to the Christie style that it winds up sharing more in common with Ira Levin’s underappreciated Deathtrap than it does anything in Christie’s back catalogue.
Of course, Levin had a wit drier than a desert, and Murder Made Easy doesn’t even come close to matching it. There are moments of dialogue that brought a smile to my face, but nothing that cemented itself in my mind in the way Michael Caine confusedly announcing “I thought I heard the gun drop?” does in Deathtrap.
Ultimately the biggest issue I find myself having with Murder Made Easy is that it almost doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. It’s a great concept, and it twists and twists, but eventually it all sort of becomes a little repetitive and, worst of all for this type of movie, predictable. By the time it does start offering up a more interesting take on the subject matter my attention had already waned, and the film never really did enough to pull me back on side.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it. There’s plenty to enjoy here, as it begins to slowly unravel there are lots of nice touches (the dinner courses serving almost as chapter headings is great) and the cast all do a pretty decent job – with the exception of maybe Edmund Lupinski, who seems to be in an entirely different film to everyone else. I’m a sucker for a good murder mystery style narrative as is, so I was on board here before I’d even started watching it.
Sadly, though, as the narrative starts to break down into a more violent, grislier movie than I was expecting, we’d already spent too long in the realms of television movie Christie wannabe.
The film has an unusual visual style that I couldn’t quite decide on. It might have been fine, but it almost might have been really off-putting and cheap feeling. A lot of it seems to be shot on a gimbal or some sort of Steadicam, giving everything this half jerky jitteriness that doesn’t gel well with the style and tropes the rest of the movie is playing with. And it has this odd, rambling sort of mumblecore feel, where conversations go on just a little too long that they start to sound like improve – and not in a good way.
I don’t want to say it was bad because, truthfully, it wasn’t. I had a lot of fun here, despite my waning interest as the film headed into its second half. To say anything about the plot proper would serve to spoil it, and so it’s worth taking a look at for the twists and turns alone. Overall though, while Murder Made Easy was serviceable it’s nothing to write home about, and perhaps could have done with a little more Levin and a little less Christie.
If you’re going to watch on slightly meta, almost stage play style murder mystery film, watch Deathtrap, it’s a blast. If you’re going to watch another afterward, Murder Made Easy is there as an option, but it’s probably not going to be your immediate choice.
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