Reel Corner - October 2022

Whodunnit? Definitions of a Good Mystery

October 2022 Issue
Reel Corner by Donne Paine

Definitions of a Good Mystery

Who are your favorite mystery types—Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, Sherlock Holmes, or Philip Marlowe?

Mystery films date back to the silent film era and are usually a genre that revolves around the solution to a problem or crime. They focus on the efforts of a detective or amateur sleuth to solve the mysterious circumstances by means of clues, investigation and clever deduction. As such, viewers’ interest stays on high alert, looking for clues as feverishly as the famous sleuths.

The plot often centers on the deductive ability, prowess, confidence, or diligence of the detective as he attempts to unravel the mystery by piecing together even the smallest of clues and circumstances, seeking evidence, interrogating witnesses and tracking down whodunnit.

Suspense is maintained as an important plot element. This can be done through the use of the soundtrack, camera angles, heavy shadows and surprising plot twists, all which evoke anxious, edge-of-your-seat emotions.

This genre has ranged from early mystery tales to fictional or literary detective stories, to Hitchcockian suspense-thrillers, to classic private detective films. A related sub-genre is spy films, which are Reel Corner’s favorites.

Mysteries usually fall into one of the following types:

Psychological Thriller:
Psychological thrillers often incorporate elements of mystery and include themes of crime, morality, mental illness, substance abuse, multiple realities, or a dissolving sense of reality and unreliable narrators—i.e. Gone Girl.

Cozy Mystery:
A cozy mystery is a sub-genre of crime fiction, where sex, violence and cursing are kept to a minimum, often happening off stage. The tone of cozies is generally light, comedic and comforting—i.e. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series.

Historical Mystery:
This is a film genre in which the plot takes place in a setting related to actual past events but is fictional—i.e. Mississippi Burning.

Romantic Suspense:
In a romantic mystery, the love interest is secondary. The mystery and finding its solution is the key plot factor. The romantic aspect usually serves to provide added depth to the main character(s) and make them more real to the reader—i.e. Where the Crawdads Sing.

Spy Thrillers:
For a movie to be considered spy fiction, some form of espionage must be present in the plot. This can include one person as a spy, or a whole agency of spies. Spy fiction can be set in the present day, past or future—i.e. James Bond.

Police Procedurals:
Police procedurals can expect a behind-the-scenes look at police work and often, a look into the lonely life of the detectives. Police procedurals can be hardboiled and gritty, or cozy and sweet, depending on the author—i.e. Seven.

Private Detective:
This genre involves mystery which is solved by a paid investigator who doesn't work for a government agency. This includes private investigators, insurance investigators and people who act like a PI but aren’t licensed or always paid—i.e. Murder on the Orient Express.

Legal Thriller:
Legal thrillers are a fiction genre that focuses on crimes, courtroom scenes, and the legal system in general. Legal thriller authors often source their protagonists from the key players in a court of law, such as a district attorney, a defense attorney, corporate litigators, personal injury lawyers, judges and jurors—i.e. A Time to Kill.

See How They Run (2022; PG-13)
Adrien Brody, Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan | Directed by Tom George
In 1950s London, plans for a movie version of a smash-hit play come to an abrupt halt after a pivotal member of the crew is murdered. When a world-weary inspector and an eager rookie constable take on the case, they find themselves thrown into a puzzling whodunnit within the glamorously sordid world of underground theater, investigating the mysterious homicide at their own peril. A very clever whodunnit that leads with the fun and charm of Constable Stalker (Ronan) who steals the show as she jumps to her own conclusions in solving the murders. See How They Run is a delightful film and fun way to challenge even the most experienced mystery aficionados.


ReelCorner 1219 DonneDonne Paine, film enthusiast, once lived around the corner from the Orson Welles Theater in Cambridge Massachusetts, where her strong interest in films, especially independent ones, began. Supporter of the arts, especially films, she travels to local and national film festivals, including Sundance, Toronto and Tribeca. There is nothing like seeing a film on the big screen. She encourages film-goers to support Hilton Head local theaters; Coligny Theater, Park Plaza Theater and Northridge. To support her habit of frequent movie going, Donne is a travel medicine nurse consultant. See you at the movies!

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.