The 12 Best Whodunits Currently On Streaming
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A dead body, several suspects, multiple motives. The best murder mysteries are compelling precisely because the genre makes detectives of viewers, encouraging us to closely examine the central crime, follow leads, keep an eye out for red herrings and finally, thrill in the big climactic reveal when all our suspicions are confirmed. All the better if they aren’t. FC writers Sankhayan Ghosh, Prathyush Parasuraman, Gayle Sequeira, Rahul Desai, Sahir D’Souza, Kanishk Devgan and Ashutosh Mohan recommend 12 great whodunits currently on streaming platforms:

Knives Out (2019)

Streaming on: YouTube

With Knives Out, Rian Johnson grafted the sensibilities of an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery onto the concerns of the millennial generation. When crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead, each of his scheming relatives is automatically a suspect. The film isn’t so much a whodunit as it was a ‘how are they going to get away with it’ — Johnson lets the audience in on the killer early enough, but maintains suspense throughout as the dysfunctional family cook up plots and their secrets are gradually revealed. Come for Daniel Craig playing a French detective with a Southern accent, stay for the nuanced commentary on the immigrant experience.

Kavaludaari (2019)

Streaming on: Voot

The 12 Best Whodunits Currently On Streaming

In Kavaludaaari, writer and director Hemanth M. Rao takes the usual tropes of a mystery thriller and stylizes them into an atmospheric and almost noir film. You have a rookie cop who wants to be a detective, a disgruntled ex-cop who comes out of retirement, an inquisitive journalist, and mysterious human skulls inadvertently found in a construction site that need an explanation. But by letting plot take a backseat, the film slowly burns over scenes that are shown to us in parts with each iteration adding information in byte-sized chunks. It’s not just the writing, but the direction is highly stylized too. An apparently boring research into case history comes to life because it’s staged like a roll call for the deceased. Not all the twists are convincing, but Kavaludaaari works because it sets up and maintains a mood of quotidian grit that keeps us engaged with it.

Talaash (2012)

Streaming on: Netflix

The 12 Best Whodunits Currently On Streaming

A famous Bollywood star drives his car straight into the sea and drowns. Was this murder? Was it suicide? What could have remained an involving police procedural film morphs into an exquisite drama about loss, grief and regret. As Inspector Surjan Singh Shekhawat (Aamir Khan, wearing a moustache that resembles a frown) investigates the star’s death, he is haunted by memories of his son, for whose horrible death he blames himself. His self-hatred has created a distance between him and his wife Roshni (a very affecting Rani Mukerji), who seeks solace with a medium (who knew Shernaz Patel could be spooky?). And then Surjan gets a lead from a mysterious prostitute named Rosie (Kareena Kapoor), a character who unites all the film’s strands with a supernatural touch. Reema Kagti directs from a script she co-wrote with Zoya Akhtar.

The Undoing (2020)

Streaming on: DisneyPlus Hotstar

The 12 Best Whodunits Currently On Streaming

Grace Fraser (Nicole Kidman), a wealthy New York psychologist, is married to Jonathan Fraser (Hugh Grant), a paediatric oncologist. By the end of episode one, an enigmatic and unusual woman named Elena Alves has entered their lives and then been found brutally murdered. Jonathan becomes the prime suspect, but Grace is increasingly convinced of his innocence. What follows is a lush, posh, tastefully tailored show about a murder investigation in upper-class Manhattan circles. The Undoing, for all its narrative bumps and an arguably unsatisfying ending, is thrilling both to look at, and watch.

Chinatown (1974)

Streaming on: YouTube Movies

The 12 Best Whodunits Currently On Streaming

Private eye JJ Gittes (Jack Nicholson) gets a case that keeps tightening its knots on him. It starts with spying on a philandering husband but leads to things of far greater magnitude: the future of the city of Los Angeles itself — also the birthplace of a certain type of noir. The eerily disturbing twist in Roman Polanski’s film will make your head spin — with the legendary John Huston as the real estate baron and antagonist — before it signs off with that famously ambiguous line: ‘Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.’

The Invisible Guest (2017)

Streaming on: Netflix

The 12 Best Whodunits Currently On Streaming

It’s easy to see why Sujoy Ghosh remade this Spanish film as Badla in 2019. It has all of the ingredients that make for a simmering, immersive murder mystery — a remote location, a locked room, a dead body, and a dazed suspect. Businessman Adrian Doria (Mario Casas) has three hours to come up with a plausible defence and while the rest of the film takes place inside the hotel room where he’s talking to his lawyer, the story zigzags between the past and the present, between the truth and deceit. Lines are crossed, characters are double crossed, and there’s a twist you just won’t see coming.

Chiriyakhana (1967)

Streaming on: Jio Cinema

The 12 Best Whodunits Currently On Streaming

Satyajit Ray thought whodunnits, with their inherent climaxes in which the detective explains and demystifies the whole story with the other characters as his audience, wasn’t the best material for cinema: he preferred the thriller format, where the identity of the criminal is revealed to the viewers in the beginning, as in his film adaptation of Sonar Kella. So when Ray made his only Byomkesh Bakshy film, Chiriyakhana, with the same trappings, the result was mixed (he considered it his ‘weakest’ film), but never not interesting. It stars Uttam Kumar in the lead.

Broadchurch (2013-2017)

Streaming on: Netflix

The 12 Best Whodunits Currently On Streaming

A coastal English town. The mysterious death of an 11-year-old boy. A haunted Scottish detective and a local subordinate. Several shady suspects. In the era of brooding Baltic crime dramas, Broadchurch virtually altered the visual language of a whodunnit into one of melancholy and empathy rather than suspense and atmosphere. Thanks in no small measure to the beautifully filmed (fictional) town of Dorset – a stitching together of disparate Scottish and English locales – and the unerring focus on the central grieving family, Broadchurch is a rare long-form narrative that immerses its plot into a cauldron of cultural consequence. The performances – led by David Tennant and Olivia Colman – are wonderfully restrained, and if nothing, the three-season series throws up inimitable video compilations of Tennant addressing Colman’s character by her surname (“Miller” morphs into various forms of “Milla”) with the urgency of his own cute Sherlock-Watson universe.

Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru (2016)

Streaming on: DisneyPlus Hotstar

Karthik Naren’s Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru is a police procedural that relies on characterization and mood much more than just its well-written plot. It’s not a film that relies on the excitement of a new clue or a final reveal. It’s an organic, slow burn, and the direction elevates the writing. For example, the writing tells us that Deepak (Rahman) is a regular cop who goes about his work competently. But even standard scenes, like Deepak investigating potential suspects, are staged so that he looks and speaks in a way that makes us emotionally distant. It mirrors the instinctive dread some of us experience in the presence of a cop. You follow Deepak through the film, but don’t empathize with him. And it helps that we don’t identify with anyone in this cold film, because the its brutal twists mean that we can’t afford to. Even impressionistic vignettes of unusual moments aren’t dwelt upon, like a man leaving a police station after finding that his children are dead and confused if he must react to his sorrow or recover himself. Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru is a sombre, and brooding, police procedural that stylizes the procedural by muting out elements of the mainstream cop movie.

Kahaani (2012)

Streaming on: Netflix

The 12 Best Whodunits Currently On Streaming

Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani is less whodunnit, more who-is-she. Vastly pregnant Vidya Venkatesan Bagchi arrives in Kolkata, ostensibly in search of her husband Arnab. Vidya is a very smart woman who weaponises both the sympathy her bulging belly evokes and her innate friendliness to achieve unprecedented ends: she infiltrates the police force, she goes up against the bureaucracy, she hacks into top-secret software systems. And she gets what she wants, on her terms. The city of Kolkata shields and protects Vidya in unexpected ways, and by the end she has risen to mythical proportions, identified with goddess Durga herself. Who is she?

Also Read: Sujoy Ghosh explains the first and last shots of Kahaani

Raat Akeli Hai (2020)

Streaming on: Netflix

Film companion raat akeli hai

So much of a whodunit is a whoooo-dunit, as in the silhouetted, shadowy mood that is created. Directed by Honey Trehan, this film is lensed by Pankaj Kumar, who treats light with such restraint, it’s a joy every time it’s daytime. Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays the inspector investigating the murder of a rich, milk-fed man who is killed by his own gun on his wedding night to a much younger bride played by Radhika Apte. Scenes sometimes swirl without plotting a course, and there’s a very textured, rooted sense of location here.

Side Effects (2013) 

Streaming on: Netflix

The 12 Best Whodunits Currently On Streaming

It’s hard to call Side Effects a whodunit murder mystery because, early on, the ‘who’ becomes very clear. What this film questions is whether it was really this person who did it, and what it means to be yourself when you commit a crime of such nature. The psychological thriller is directed by none other than Steven Soderbergh (Sex, Lies, And Videotape; Ocean’s 11) whose seamless shift in style between his work, yet again, results in a strong, gripping film. On top of that, it features a heavy-hitting cast of Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Channing Tatum. If you’re a fan of murder-mysteries, check this one out for something a little different.

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