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See_How_They_Run.jpg

‘See How They Run’ Is a Comedically Meta Whodunit

By Sara Clements | Film | September 15, 2022 |

By Sara Clements | Film | September 15, 2022 |


See_How_They_Run.jpg

“The thing about whodunnits,” Adrien Brody’s Leo Kopernick explains, “is that once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all.” While Leo, a blacklisted Hollywood director, may believe so, the film he has been written for begs to differ. Just like how the Scream franchise provides meta-commentary on the horror genre, Tom George’s See How They Run does the same for the murder mystery. The director’s first feature is masterfully crafted, thanks in large part to Mark Chappell’s incredibly sharp and witty script. It’s one of the most enjoyable and humorous films of the year.

Immediately stricken by the fantastic costuming and stunning production design, we are transported under the glittering lights of a theatre in London’s West End. It’s 1953 and the play on the stage is Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. Despite celebrating its 100th performance, Leo, our narrator, calls it a “second-rate” murder mystery. It’s a bold thing to say about a work by the undisputed queen of the genre. But why he says, “once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all,” is because, arguably, they all play out the same. There’s a prologue where all the characters are introduced; eventually, the most unlikable of the bunch gets killed; a “world-weary” detective, as he puts it, enters the scene; after some investigating, he gathers all the suspects into the drawing room to reveal the killer.

Despite taking issue with these same old beats, Leo narrates the film just like the beginning of a Christie novel. He introduces the key players. Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson) is the theatre world’s leading heartthrob, playing the detective role in the play; Petula Spencer (Ruth Wilson) has dollar signs in her eyes as the theatre director; John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith) is a producer hoping to turn The Mousetrap into a film with Leo set to direct; Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo) is a “pompous ass” screenwriter who’s failing to see eye to eye with Leo and his vision for a new kind of murder mystery. These aren’t the only members of the troupe, but others like Sheila (Pearl Chanda), Richard’s other half, and Fleabag’s Sian Clifford as Woolf’s airy wife don’t get many moments to shine like the rest of the cast and their characters lack substance.

As many Hollywood directors do, Leo wants a spectacle with more explosions, more action, and a murder within the opening minutes. In trying to shake up the trappings of the whodunit, he gets trapped in a real one. In usual murder mystery fashion, after the introduction of the characters, the most unlikable of the bunch gets bumped off. Then, a detective enters the crime scene and our key players become suspects — and potential victims. As Inspector Stoppard, Sam Rockwell does carry the world-weariness that is expected from murder mystery detectives. He spends most of the film expressionless, giving off the vibe that he really just wants to take a nap. But his laissez-faire attitude won’t pass with the eager and excitable partner he gets stuck with. “I do like a good murder,” Saoirse Ronan’s Constable Stalker says on her first day on the case.

With a true-crime-obsessed generation as her audience, she is immediately likable. The entire cast is excellent but Ronan stands out with her adorably infectious enthusiasm and relatable nervousness as someone inexperienced at what she’s been tasked to take on. Constable Stalker is also refreshingly written. As a mother of young children, it’s surprising to see her portrayed as a policewoman during this time period. It’s especially more surprising to see the script absent of any jabs about her gender. She’s the only woman in an office full of men, but there’s never a fuss made over it and she’s never looked down upon as a woman, even when she makes mistakes. She jumps to conclusions, leading to an almost case-crumbling mix-up, but it’s not the only mix-up found in the attempt to solve this case. The other has murderous intentions, leading to a human mouse trap being set - the story coming full circle brilliantly.

Whodunits are all similar in some way and it takes great skill to keep them both unpredictable and interesting. George and Chappell make it look easy as they keep the audience in complete darkness until the very end. Murder mysteries are described in the film as “old, tired, been done before” which is perhaps how many film watchers feel, but See How They Run’s metanarrative poking fun at the sub-genre of detective fiction proves how false a statement that is. Mervyn, our fictional screenwriter, talks about how flashbacks ruin the flow of the story, preceded by a flashback used to provide insight into a dispute between him and Leo. (It doesn’t ruin the flow.) He then says something to the effect of, “And then what? A ‘Three Weeks Later’ transition?” What immediately follows is, you guessed it, the words “Three Weeks Later” coming onto the screen. Making fun of this kind of predictability are some of the great bits of comedy present in the film, as well as the seamlessly delivered jabs, puns, expressions, and natural bits of humor the entire cast is able to display. Other elements like split screen (to show each character’s expression), the jaunty jazz score, and the editing, for example, to blend both The Mousetrap and film together, add even more praiseworthy moments to savor.

When the killer is confronted at the end of most murder mysteries, they pull out a weapon. See How They Run has the whodunit hostage at the end of its barrel, modifying it so expertly that even if all the clues are right in front of your face you can’t see them until revelations hit you in the end like a director Kopernick-approved explosion.