Quickfire round: Unsolved Mysteries

We all love a good mystery, although most of us desire the satisfaction of having the mystery solved by the end of the episode. Thankfully, despite being deprived of it here, Unsolved Mysteries still manages to be an enticing watch.

Reconstructions and archive footage are blended together, which adds to the viewer’s immersion in the mystery.

Although there is one episode on a massively-corroborated UFO sighting, the rest of the show’s episodes cover murders. First, we hear about the story of a recently married man who goes missing and is found dead days later in an abandoned hotel building, having seemingly gone straight through the metal and wood roof, a feat that would have required jumping from an extreme height. However, nobody can work out a convincing-enough theory as to where he would have jumped from to end up there. I found this one to be the most sinister of the entire series because of the victim’s relations to a shady businessman who refused to cooperate with police and the documentary.

I like that one episode is entirely in French, covering the well publicised murders of the entire Dupont de Ligonnès aristocrat family (well, everyone other than the father). This episode is probably the most horrific, but you’ll eventually learn that what happened to the family is not so much of a mystery as some of the other episodes in the show.

I won’t spoil the rest, but I implore you to watch them. Each episode is well made, with reconstructions and archive footage interspersed with current-day interviews featuring relatives and officials who worked on the unsolved cases at the time. There’s no central narration, just a careful telling of the story all the way through.

277w

What I thought about: Control Z

Is Mexican Netflix as good as Spanish Netflix? If this mystery drama is anything to go by, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Featuring an excellent lead actress and supporting cast, I devoured this show in less than 48 hours.

Look at them, phones out, ready to record today’s mishap. Over-use of mobiles is what got them into this mess…

What’s it about?
Sophia is a bit odd. She lost her father many years ago in a fire, and recently returned from a mental institution after an incident of self-harm. But she’s also a thinker, able to spot patterns in behaviour and notice the little details. When a hacker hijacks the school assembly to drop a truly explosive secret about one of her classmates, they all turn to her for help tracking the hacker down. Sophia needs to hurry up, though, as the hacker continues to either reveal more secrets or blackmail students into doing their bidding, including taunting Sophia.

The show was described by a much better writer than me as “Gossip Girl meets Mr. Robot, with just a touch of Sherlock Holmes”, and I couldn’t put it better myself.

What do I like about it?
It has a similar salacious energy that we’ve seen before in Elite. These kids have some pretty messed up secrets, and as they start coming out, there are some truly catastrophic consequences. But the show also takes the time to illustrate how the students – many of them rather stuck-up, self-absorbed, or outright bullies, are quite emotionally fragile underneath, and the incident changes them for the better. I also enjoyed seeing Sophia become more accepted by her classmates who used to whisper about her mental health issues.

What do I not like about it?
With the advent of streaming services, episodes no longer have to fit neatly into an ad-friendly running time. This show runs anywhere from 35 to 41 minutes. It’s strange, then, that it felt like some connecting scenes were missing at times, as if they had been cut. Characters would get close to boiling point in one scene, and then are completely calm in the next. I remember a scene where Raúl is looking for Sophia, literally going up to random students and asking them if they’d seen her. The very next scene shows Sophia walking together with Raúl and Javier. I suppose we are to assume he managed to track her down eventually? That these elements were missing does raise some concerns about the solidity of the show’s plot.

Worth a watch?
Yes, as long as you’re not expecting too much. I enjoyed this show and can’t wait for the confirmed second season, but I can’t give readers the same encouragement as I did for The Stranger, as it’s just not on the same level. The childishness of the school’s students and the aforementioned plot difficulties might annoy the more seasoned mystery fan.

By the way…

  • This is fifth foreign-language show I’ve seen this year, and in fact the third Spanish-language one. The beauty of Netflix’s Originals is their ability to push it out to their entire global subscriber base without international licensing woes. The consumer ultimately benefits – if you’re not watching foreign-language titles on Netflix, you’re seriously missing out.
  • NME gave it 2/5. I think that’s a bit harsh, but then again, I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy.

562w

Quickfire Round: Dangerous Lies

What was the point? Was that really as bad as it looked? Two questions I asked immediately upon seeing the end credits flash up on screen. Netflix do great TV shows, but it seems they have a long way to go for movies.

If I told you 2/3 people in this scene get shot in the last 5 minutes of the film, would you believe me?

Dangerous Lies is a mystery-thriller with one of the most unsatisfying endings I have ever seen. It begins with a cliché – a caregiver (Katie) unexpectedly inherits the estate of her employer (Leonard) after his sudden death. Her boyfriend (Adam), having been turned down for one to many graduate jobs, is a bit too keen to move in and start spending some of the late Leonard’s cash.

What follows is, until the final moments, a head-scratching, eery, mystery. Anonymous phone-calls. A dodgy realtor. A suspicious police detective. And an increasingly anxious Adam. But then it all just goes… bad? Threads are pulled together by way of extreme assumption and implication which is so far-fetched as to be wholly unsatisfying for any mystery fan. Some red herrings are left completely unresolved, surely a crime against mystery story-telling. This trail of disappointment culminates in a rushed ending where, and I don’t normally do spoilers in this blog but it seems apt here, three key characters are shot and killed in the space of a few minutes. Yeah – it just fell completely flat.

One thing I will give the movie credit for, although I’m not sure it deserves it as it’s probably unintentional, is the world-building. Each setting is distinct and over-the-top, which I feel helps add to the mystery and the viewer’s sense of unease. For example, the man running Katie’s care agency is portly and stereotypically old-fashioned – we see that in everything from his attire to his dusty old office. Yet, the movie is clearly set in the present as Katie has a modern smartphone. A pat on the back for the stage department, too, as the opening scene outside a diner features an appropriately excessive array of neon lights which dazzle brightly on a Dolby Vision-capable television.

Netflix films might have a fancy budget to help with production but they don’t appear to have the right scripts just yet. Give this one a miss – the trailer oversold it.

383w