Weekend Watchlist: Mysteries

By The Pitt News Staff

Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” brought the whodunit back to the movie-going public this winter, bringing in several hundred thousand dollars at a box office that’s been dominated by franchise movies, reboots and sequels for the past few years. But that’s not a big plot twist — at least, not to those who have been paying attention to the clues. Mysteries have always captivated audiences when they’re done right. Just look at the number of adaptations spawned by Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about Sherlock Holmes, now the most famous detective of all time. Our list of streaming mystery picks for this weekend doesn’t include any Holmes, but it does include other giants of the genre, like Agatha Christie and Scooby-Doo.

Zodiac (Netflix) // Simon Sweeney, For The Pitt News

David Fincher (critically acclaimed director of “Fight Club” and “The Social Network,” among others) pulls together conspiracy, mystery, psychological disintegration and an A-list cast around center of airtight ’70s period-piece thrill. It’s long but worth it — the mood of desperation surrounding Jake Gyllenhaal’s haggard reporter, Robert Graysmith, doesn’t let up. Fincher builds tension in three different directions at once for two and a half hours, allowing for infrequent respites that only make the foreboding stronger when the tension creeps back in. Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo and Chloë Sevigny fill out the top of a pitch-perfect ensemble, headed by Gyllenhaal as he chases down leads both legitimate and nonexistent over the span of a full decade. It’s not a whodunit — there is no clean wrap-up montage, no infallible investigator — but it is a riveting mystery and a fascinating portrait of obsession and fear. The act of centering on a journalist rather than a detective brings a fresh frame to the genre, as do Gyllenhaal’s brushes with total derangement, grasping at straws that are long gone if they were ever there at all. Fincher pulls off a few all-time classic set pieces and Downey and Ruffalo turn in their final stellar pre-Marvel performances in one of the finest films the Aughts have to offer, one to sit down for as you prepare to not breathe for the several consecutive hours.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (Amazon Prime) // Brian Gentry, Contributing Editor

Despite the countless adaptations that have been released since the first showing in 1969, the original season of “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” holds a special place in my heart — I can recite the first five episodes from memory. In each episode of the three-season series, criminals who commit contrived crimes — like kidnapping dogs or counterfeiting money — hide behind the mask of a supernatural being. It’s up to a gang of intrepid teenage mystery solvers and their large talking great dane, Scooby-Doo, to try to figure out who’s behind the mask. The plots are nonsensical, the leading characters are naïve yet lovable and the villains are comically bad at doing evil stuff. The show’s classic animation and corny laugh tracks only contribute further to the absurdity, resulting in a fantastic show for people of all ages. If you’re looking for a mystery that throws you back to your childhood, check out the original “Scooby-Doo” episodes.

Outlander (Netflix) // Caroline Bourque, Managing Editor

Author Diana Gabaldon wrote eight meticulously researched novels following the story of former WWII nurse Claire Randall, who travels back in time to 18th century Scotland. But if eight novels sounds egregious to you, check out the TV adaptation, originally developed by Starz and currently streaming on Netflix.

The story begins when Claire and her husband take a post-war honeymoon in the lush wilderness of Inverness, an area in the Scottish Highlands. One strange morning, Claire secretly witnesses a pagan ritual take place within a Stonehenge-esque circle atop a hill. Later that day, she returns to the spot to poke around and finds herself inexplicably cast back in time to 1743.

How did this happen? Did the stones possess some alchemical, malicious intent? Once the Scottish warrior Jamie Frazer hits the scene, you’ll find yourself quickly bored by a bunch of magic rocks. Claire soon becomes enamoured with this old-timey hunk and embarks on a dangerous journey by his side as they traverse Scotland in the time of the Jacobite risings. This multi-genre tale takes on several overlapping mysteries, which unravel expertly as the plot progresses. It’s a story that sounds ridiculous, but has a way of sucking in even the most skeptical viewers. You might be surprised to find yourself binge-watching the series in one weekend and starting in on the novels the next. 

Crooked House (Amazon Prime) // Bailey Sasseville, Contributing Editor

This adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1949 novel of the same name features a stellar cast, including fan favorites Glenn Close, Gillian Anderson and Christina Hendricks. If you liked the highly rated “Knives Out,” this made-for-TV movie is right up your alley.

It starts as most mystery movies do — with a death. Business tycoon Aristide Leonides suffers a fatal heart attack, but his granddaughter Sophia believes he was actually murdered. She enlists the detective skills of Charles Hayward, her dashing former lover. Upon arriving to the Leonides estate — a sprawling English mansion inhabited by all of Aristide’s descendents as well as his latest (extremely young) wife — Hayward finds no shortage of suspects. Each family member has a strong motive — inheritance of a vast fortune — and the knowledge to carry out the murder. As Hayward interviews the family and becomes enwrapped in decades of drama, you’ll alternately despise and sympathize with each character.

With alluring cinematography of the English countryside and dramatic, haunting music, every scene is a pleasure to watch, all the way until the explosive end.