A good whodunnit typically contains traditional elements that define it as being part of a wildly varied but always entertaining subgenre. A dastardly murder, a fascinating roster of suspects, a shocking reveal, and tying up the disparate threads in an eye-opening finale. Hulu’s A Murder at the End of the World checks off a couple of boxes, while still failing to live up to its full potential. Stylistically, this seven-episode miniseries created, written, and directed by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanhlij, remains beautiful to look at. Perhaps the biggest hurdle lies in its structure, constantly switching back and forth between past and present. Whilst one would assume the less successful angle would be the flashbacks, the main mystery-driven murder narrative feels decidedly more saggy. Despite the best intentions from an excellent cast (including Beach Rats/Triangle of Sadness cutie Harris Dickinson and Lady Chatterly’s Lover/My Policeman star Emma Corrin), A Murder at the End of the World lacks an engaging story to accompany its character-first machinations.
Author Darby Hart (Corrin) is considered something of an amateur sleuth, and she has now published a true crime mystery entitled Silver Dome to further back up those claims. As the series opens, Darby reads an excerpt from her novel to properly set the tone. In these early moments, the audience learns of Darby’s relentless exploration of silver objects from Jane Does, aided by her boyfriend, Bill (Dickinson). They make it their mission to track down a potential killer of these women, following an established pattern. A cold case from the 2000s seems like a strange way to fall in love for the first time, but such appears to be the case with Darby and Bill. The duo go from dueting together in the car over Annie Lennox’s “No More ‘I Love You’s’” to discovering bones under the basement stairs of a creepy, seemingly abandoned house.
The pilot episode compels with the way it teases Darby and Bill’s relationship. In fact, their aspect of the storyline intrigues so greatly that everything that follows fails to meet the established standards. By means of a virtual reality invitation, Darby gets invited to a billionaire’s all-expenses-paid “symposium of minds” retreat that departs in just two weeks. It really doesn’t take much convincing for Darby to agree to attend this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. On the plane to some unknown arctic destination, we meet a large swath of the suspects, all of whom have disparate personality types and motivations. Later, their cocky host, Andy (Clive Owen, Children of Men, Closer), will insist that everyone invited has “something extraordinary to offer.”
Much of that debut episode spends time establishing a variety of different personality types, including filmmaker Martin (Jermaine Fowler, Coming 2 America, Sorry to Bother You), investigating missing black women in D.C.; true crime-loving personal head of security Todd (Louis Cancelmi, Billions, Boardwalk Empire); Lu Mei (Joan Chen, Judge Dredd, Twin Peaks), a builder of smart cities in China; and moon colonizer hopeful Sian (Alice Braga, I Am Legend, Predators). Though Darby hasn’t spoken to Bill in almost six years, he also shows up at the retreat, his presence in the art world serving as his ticket inside. Once the suspect list has been properly padded out, a dinner party and a murder are the main course! Darby witnesses only a piece of the death that happens. Naturally, the others call into question whether her obsession with solving crimes has made her believe one occurred, despite no actual evidence proving beyond doubt that the victim was, in fact, murdered.
The attempts to put a new spin on a classic formula are commendable; however, whereas a movie like Glass Onion thrives in its meta exploration of tropes, A Murder at the End of the World lacks the depth or humor to pull off any of this convincingly. An excessive use of flashback suggests a better show, whereas the mainline retreat comes across half-baked. Boredom began to set in for me around the halfway mark. How can one collect such a group of talent, and waste the majority of them? The two best characters are definitely Bill and Darby, though that could just be by way of focusing so heavily on their past and present hijinks. Dickinson sports an impressive mullet in the flashbacks, whereas Corrin epitomizes that Gen-Z Sherlock Holmes vibe.
Mostly, I kept waiting for A Murder at the End of the World to arrive at the point it was trying to make. Attempts at social commentary, including global warming and environmental messages, simply do not work. It seems the material would be more suited to a feature film rather than a miniseries. Even at just seven episodes, this stretches itself so thin that it threatens to break under its own tension multiple times over. The past storyline really kept me watching, which honestly was the total opposite reaction I assumed from the advertising materials. With so many stellar whodunnits on the market, recommending one that lacks personality or charm altogether would be rather misguided. As with Darby’s search for silver Jane Doe jewelry, A Murder at the End of the World aimlessly wanders looking for a connection to its threads. At least Darby eventually finds one.
Attempt to solve A Murder at the End of the World, premiering November 14th only on Hulu.