After recently renewing my Netflix subscription, I thought I’d explore Netflix’s mystery genre, see what gems I could exhume. As far as Netflix mysteries go, I usually stick to Sherlock and Psych, even X-Files (which is no longer on the streaming platform, for shame Netflix!), but this time, I branched out to international films. When I saw 2014 Chinese film, The Great Hypnotist (also known as Cui mian da shi) and its premise, I was immediately drawn in. The film is an international drama, thriller, and psycho-mystery directed by Leste Chen and written by Peng Ren and Leste Chen that follows hypnotherapist Dr. Xu’s treatment with a puzzling patient. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept and treatment of hypnotherapy, of how the mind can be convinced to eat less, smoke less, be less anxious. While I was trying to vicariously live through his patients to understand this hypnotherapy experience, I found myself approached by a psycho-mystery with a plot and characters that appeared to be inspired by detective fiction formats.
The entirety of the film revolves around the practice of hypnotherapist Dr. Xu; the first minutes of the movie taking viewers through his hypnotherapy session with a woman who’s being mentally haunted by a young woman—whose styling was very similar to the TV-ghost-girl in The Ring—a young woman she believes is trying to steal her child from her. Actually, the whole movie begins quite horrifically as the opening shot shows the young woman looking through the glass of a door, trying to break in. She’s trapped by this door’s frame, giving the audience this sense of entrapment and claustrophobia. As we watch further, we realize that the young woman following the older woman and the child through dark and deserted buildings was all part of a trance of Dr. Xu’s patient. The silence and the empty, open spaces in these starting scenes assist in building a thrilling experience for the viewer. We get a sense that these patients who visit Dr. Xu feel haunted by their experiences and wrongdoings and that Dr. Xu, as their hypnotherapist, is meant to exorcise their inner demons. Continue reading →
After watching various crime and cop shows like Elementary, Psych, X-Files, and NCIS and reading Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie narratives, the formulas and patterns of mystery become impossible not to notice. Stories usually start with a character seeking investigative expertise of the detective; stories start with travel to a new setting where a murder is revealed following the detective’s brief lounging with the mystery’s central characters. There’s always a problem that needs solving, usually done through witness-questioning and clue-searching. Once you have a handle on these patterns, finding ways in which authors subvert these patterns is all the more fascinating. I began thinking that I would apply this philosophy to the newly released standalone novel by Tana French entitled The Witch Elm. I wanted to see if French crossed the boundaries of the typical mystery or if she stayed within its lines.
One author whose work I’ve had on my to-be-read list is Walter Mosley. Most famous for his novel Devil in a Blue Dress, many of Mosley’s books focus on the tales of the hard-boiled private investigator and Los Angeles resident, Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins. Easy, as an investigator, always drew my interest. His character is methodically, sometimes morally, opposite from detectives like Hercule Piorot or Sherlock Holmes, since he’s more willing to blur the lines between right and wrong in the name of justice and truth. After reading and analyzing the 1930s Harlem novel The Conjure-Man Dies by Rudolf Fisher, one of the first mystery novels written by an African American, I wanted to dip my toes into the 1960s experiences of Easy Rawlins. I figured the best way to skim the surface would be with one of Mosley’s more recent releases, a short story collection entitled Six Easy Pieces.
A year ago I went on a YouTube binge of sci-fi movie trailers and somehow ended up viewing the trailer for Thelma (2017), a Norwegian film directed by Joachim Trier, that combines mystery, thriller, and drama genres for a contemporary twist. The trailer stuck out and was in my mind days after, as it was captivatingly creepy and stirred my fright. In turn of my inherent fear to watch anything that could be the least bit terrifying and weaponize my imagination against me, I hesitated to ever give the movie a watch. Yet recently, I went to the theatre with friends to see The Nun. The film included everything that I typically hate in horror films—ghosts and possession—but I walked away from that movie cracking jokes about the bad dialogue, movie makeup, and the plot holes big enough for a human to fall through. After watching The Nun, I figured if I didn’t go home worried about sisters decked in habits hiding in the darkest recesses of my closet at night, then I could make it through Thelma.
The last time I watched a Lifetime show, Dance Moms was still on the air, and I was rooting for the dancing queen underdog Chloe to get the recognition she deserved from her verbally abusive dance instructor. So it has been years since I’ve visited the channel and only the high acclaim of a Big Brother podcaster and a need to fulfill my mystery fix brought me to the new Lifetime show, You.
The psychological thriller and drama follows full-time bookstore manager and part-time stalker Joe (played by Penn Badgley, Gossip Girl). He finds the woman of his dreams in aspiring writer Beck (played by Elizabeth Lail, Dead of Summer) pushing him to avidly stalk her. The show was 48 minutes of tears, new fears, suspense, and the biggest OMG moment when I saw Shay Mitchell (who acted in my beloved guilty pleasure, Pretty Little Liars) pop up on my TV screen.