Unsolved Mysteries on Netflix, in essence, is a whodunnit without any confirmed who. It is in a perpetual state of a cliffhanger. The final whistle of each episode asks for public contribution — if you have any details about this mystery, murder or event, please visit our website. It's a frightening few lines and a great marketing gimmick that will definitely fetch the producers some good advertiser revenue. As the title of the series alludes, there will be no narrative closure. All the narrative burden is placed on the mystery itself. Is it fascinating? Is it eventful enough? Can it keep the audience on edge? It surely is fascinating, eventful, and keeps you on edge. But all of that's only for Netflix's description of each episode. In its core, the show is flat-out slow and meandering.
The first volume of the true crime documentary has six episodes, each of which uncovers a different mystery. Most of the episodes deal with suspicious murders and disappearances. The more interesting ones get into an apparent suicide that could possibly be a homicide; another one unfurls, as they put it, a "massacre" of an entire French family; and one is about a murder that precedes an interconnected missing persons case. To the shock of several sceptics and interest of conspiracy theorists, there is also an episode on a UFO sighting that tormented a town back in the 1960s. The spectrum of the series, overall, goes from spine-chilling mysteries to utterly absurd ones.
There is enough meat in some of these events that could potentially make for intriguing case studies but the show's poor execution doesn't let that happen. Unsolved Mysteries is a more morbid and less exasperating version of reality television. Quite like Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen or Big Boss (Big Brother), arguably one of the more head-splitting series' out there, this one, too, has incessant quarrelling and blaming. In the second episode of the docuseries, that almost goaded me into turning off the TV, a good chunk of it is dedicated to everyone accusing a husband of his wife's disappearance. Its director, Jimmy Goldblum, inundates the episode with said allegations, rather nauseatingly, instead of using them to construct a dramatic and shocking discussion around the mystery. The only unsolved mystery here was why they were satisfied with a narrative that simply goes, 'he said, she said.'
In the fifth episode, not quite inspired from reality TV but from certain delirious comedies, the series curators decided to unravel a UFO sighting. Now, it is not so much the event that took place, but the manner in which they reported it, that's baffling. The accounts of the residents in that county, which cannot be confirmed, gravitate towards the unintentionally funny side of things. One of them says, "But I remember levitating. And then I remember being on a ship," and a second townsman recounts a rather bewildering story, "My mother and grandmother were reversed [in the car] and the ignition was off." There seems to be no rhyme or reason behind why this episode, an outlier in this collection for eerie mysteries, was included.
A couple of episodes, do have promising starts, however. The mysteries are strange and terrifying, especially the unexplainable disappearance of an entire French aristocratic family. But the show falls prey to some shoddy writing and investigation. Each episode deals with hypotheticals — there are different theories as to why they are missing or are dead. And there's nothing wrong with that, there is no other way through which they can report the crime. However, the writers and directors never really elaborate on those theories beyond a few lean minutes. And it does not help that each episode is incredibly slow-paced — the interviewees marinate in their descriptions of the events for, what seems like, hours.
The show is designed to be an investigative thriller. But it only takes on the guise of one. Instead of naturally bringing out the thrill and adrenaline you may normally feel in a true crime film or series, Unsolved Mysteries becomes a manipulative feat of television that tries too hard to appeal to our emotions. Each shot is engineered to make you feel a certain way as an audience. The close-ups of the friends and families of the victim are glaringly obvious — you see whether they are faintly shaking or quivering; how many times they clench their teeth; when they begin crying. They magnify each action of theirs to wring out any possible emotion from the viewers.
At one point in this series, I did wonder if they were trying to emulate the David Fincher style of shooting. The show takes the quote, "The night is darkest just before the dawn," a tad too literally. I do wish that the creators did more with the mysteries they took up. If not for the shallow and overdone treatment of its material, Unsolved Mysteries could have been a decent viewing.
You can stream Volume 1 of Unsolved Mysteries on Netflix.