(Module 11)What is a mystery film?

The Mystery film is a sub-genre of the more general category of crime film genre. It focuses on the efforts of the detective, private investigator or an amateur sleuth to solve the mysterious circumstances of a crime by following clues, conducting an investigation, and/or clever deduction.

The successful mystery film adheres to one of two story types, known as Open or a  Closed mystery. The Closed (or whodunit) mystery conceals the identity of the perpetrator until late in the story, adding an element of suspense during the apprehension of the suspect, as the audience is never quite sure who it is. The Open mystery, in contrast, reveals the identity of the perpetrator at the top of the story, showcasing the “perfect crime” which the audience then watches the protagonist as they attempt to unravel and unearth the clues leading to the answers, which usually occur at the very end of the story, akin to the unveiling scenes in the Closed style.

Suspense is often maintained as an important plot element. This can be done through the use of the soundtrack, camera angles, heavy shadows, and surprising plot twists.

J.J. Abrams talks about the importance of “mystery” here:


AFI. (2020, October 18). Detective-Mystery Films. Retrieved from http://www.filmsite.org/mysteryfilms.html

Dartmouth College. (2012, September 6). Detective & Mystery films – Film genres – research guides at Dartmouth College. Retrieved from http://researchguides.dartmouth.edu/filmgenres/detectivefilms

Gates, P. (2011, October 28). Detective films: – Cinema and media studies – oxford bibliographies. Retrieved from http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199791286/obo-9780199791286-0024.xml

Harmon, J. (2003). Radio mystery and adventure: And its appearances in film, television, and other media. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co.

Kiszely, P. (2006). Hollywood through private eyes: The screen adaptation of the “hard-boiled” private detective novel in the studio era. Bern, UK: Peter Lang.

O’Connor, C. (2017, May 17). The best mystery movies | Complex. Retrieved from http://www.complex.com/pop-culture/best-mystery-movies/

Palumbo, D. (n.d.). Screenplay writing: Taking the mystery out of writing mysteries. Retrieved from http://www.movieoutline.com/articles/screenplay-writing-taking-the-mystery-out-of-writing-mysteries.html


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