If Wes Anderson helmed a throwback murder mystery whodunnit, it would probably look something like Tom George’s wickedly fun See How They Run. Like the best in the genre, it features a soaring ensemble cast that savagely devours even the smallest line of dialogue to cast villainous, shadowy doubt on their established characters. In the immortal words of Scream’s Randy, “everybody’s a suspect!” What sets this whodunnit apart is a devotion to deconstructing tropes, and examining the particulars of structure through a meta lens, accompanied by broad strokes of dark comedy. Agatha Christie herself would be proud of what the filmmakers here are able to accomplish over a briskly-paced runtime that had me hooked before the title even flashes onto the screen.
From the elaborate, theatre-set opening sequence, the filmmakers are already toying with us. A whip-smart narration, courtesy of Adrien Brody, introduces us to all of the major players. At the same time, he also mocks the very concept of the whodunnit—“seen one, seen them all.” His character, famous director Leo Kopernick, airs out all his frustrations about the stereotypical way these films play out before the movie itself begins to unfold in the very same way. It is 1953 on London’s West End, and Agatha Christie’s smash hit play The Mousetrap is ringing its 100th performance in with a lavish party! What better way to celebrate than with murder? Leo has been tasked with turning The Mousetrap into a film, but issues with the script and concerns over casting appear to have reached a fever pitch. Despite his misgivings, Leo remains committed to making the movie happen. Leo is promptly killed by a shrouded figure donned in a fedora and an intimidating trench coat, his body positioned onstage to make the message quite clear.
Motivations and possible scenarios jump out at the viewer from the beginning, but we are pointedly told early on to “never jump to conclusions.” Could it be the charming, self-centered lead actor who loves the sound of his own voice, Richard ‘Dickie’ Attenborough (Harris Dickinson, Beach Rats, The King’s Man)? How about the money-hungry producer, John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith, Shaun of the Dead, The World’s End), or maybe the film’s pompous, uptight screenwriter Mervyn Cocker Norris (David Oyelowo, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Selma)? Better yet, the play’s mastermind Petula Spencer (Ruth Wilson, True Things, Saving Mr. Banks), Petula’s seafood-loving mother (Ania Marson), or Mervyn’s cousin the amateur taxidermist Gio (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, The Last Letter From Your Lover, Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywaler) could be behind it all. Whatever the case, drunken mess Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell, Choke, The Green Mile) and his movie-obsessed apprentice, Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan, Little Women, The Lovely Bones), will get to the bottom of it!
Whereas the setup of the film may seem simple enough, a large manner of flashbacks, split-screen cinematic tricks, foreshadowing, red herrings, and false accusations color the proceedings in shades of gray. See How They Run is sure to make fun of itself along the way, and never takes things too seriously. The fourth wall is promptly broken right as the film ends, which feels like the only proper way that it could have concluded in the first place. The ensemble is terrific, but Rockwell and Ronan in particular steal the show as the duo working to uncover the mysteries. The two are such opposites that it becomes almost laughable. An overly enthusiastic Constable Stalker writes down nearly everything she sees in her notebook in the hopes that the important facts will stick out to her later, whilst Inspector Stoppard uses every available chance he has to nap or sneak off to the pub in the guise of dental work. Asked to take her under his wing, Stoppard and Stalker develop a rapport that is simply irresistible.
Obviously, a whodunnit is only as good as its conclusion, and screenwriter Mark Chappell is well aware of this fact. Needless to say, he pulls out all the steps in delivering meta layer upon meta layer to the proceedings. I have a hard time believing anyone could walk away in disappointment considering the grandiose nature of the finale. The pieces fall together nicely, and repeat viewings may only serve to add to the mystique. The reveal isn’t quite Knives Out, but it is certainly on brand for Agatha Christie. Curiously enough, See How They Run gets the majority of the facts right surrounding the actors involved, and the actual opening of The Mousetrap on the West End. The show opened in 1952 and played thousands of performances way up until the pandemic caused a temporary closure of the timeless tale. As mentioned in the film repeatedly, Christie’s original text was also loosely based on a true story, and becomes paramount to the movie’s meta approach. See How They Run is the third great whodunnit of 2022, after both Scream and Bodies Bodies Bodies. Decidedly less horror for sure, and yet no less meticulously structured or well written.
See How They Run investigates yet another mysterious murder with a twist when it debuts in limited release theaters on Friday, September 16th.