Nothing beats a good mystery to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. It feels satisfying to spend two hours guessing who committed a murder or several murders central to the plot and seeing an unexpected resolution unfold. This is a hallmark of a well-made murder mystery movie and offers a little relief from the endless parade of paint-by-the-numbers efforts that show up on movie and TV screens each year. These six murder mysteries offer a template on the right way to approach the genre:
Few mysteries are as mind bending as “Memento” because it centers on an amnesiac detective who is forced to jot down various notes to jog his memory as he tries to solve the murder of his wife. The twist that he ultimately did the awful deed is at both shocking and heart wrenching. It also turns basic murder mystery conventions – like the detective and killer being two separate people – on its head.
"The Usual Suspects" (1995):
There are so many unanswered questions at the end of “The Unusual Suspects” because of the chilling final revelation. The audience is left to wonder who Keyser Soze really is and if anything he told the police detective is remotely true. One thing “The Unusual Suspects” accomplished is to convince the audience to not automatically assume the narrator is telling the truth. Chances are good they could be deceiving them as well.
An effective blending of genres occurs from the opening minutes of “Seven.” A pair of detectives are forced to unravel the identity of a gruesome killer who bases his victims on the seven deadly sins. The best twist is not the revelation of the killer's identity, but how his sixth victim lays the groundwork for him to become the seventh and final victim. It is a classic cat-and-mouse thriller that leaves you feeling disturbed by the end credits.
"Rear Window" (1954):
Alfred Hitchcock was a master of creating suspense. “Rear Window” offers a perfect example of this trait. The audience suspects that a jewelry salesman, played by Raymond Burr, killed his wife. The tension comes not from learning who is the murderer. It comes from seeing the wheelchair-bound photographer, played by James Stewart, trying to obtain evidence of foul play before his murderous neighbor catches onto his investigation.
"The Maltese Falcon" (1941):
If there is a reason why Humphrey Bogart feels like the quintessential private eye, “The Maltese Falcon” is it. All of the classic elements are there – a femme fatale, a chase for a priceless artifact and a complicated case with plenty of murders and no easy answers. Bogart shines as Spade and one viewing is all that is needed to show why this is an American classic.