The humble ‘whodunit’, the all-star investigation of a society murder, was long out of fashion before a surprising resurgence in the last few years, ranging from Kenneth Branagh’s reboot of Hercules Poirot to Only Murders in the Building, with Rian Johnson’s Knives Out providing a surprise spark at the box-office. That’s the febrile climate that’s led to Tom George’s brisk pastiche See How They Run, written by Mark Chappell and doubling down on genre credentials by taking inspiration from Agatha Christie’s celebrated play The Mousetrap. It’s been brought forward in the UK schedules to take advantage of a lack of studio releases, and provides welcome sustenance for those seeking cinematic fun.
It’s during a party celebrating the 100th performance of the hit play The Mousetrap that US film director Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody) meets a violent demise, abruptly dispatched backstage by a faceless antagonist. Scotland Yard have their hands full with the search for the 10 Rillington Place serial killer, and send their B team to investigate. Boozy Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and enthusiastic cop-in-training Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) have a motely roster of suspects to interview in their search for the murderer. Could it be affected playwright Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelomo), film-producer John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith), grand dame Petula Spencer (Ruth Wilson) or even actor Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson)? There are plenty of other suspects to consider, but time runs out as the killer strikes again…
“Maybe its all of them?’ hopefully suggests Stalker, but this isn’t a reworking of the Orient Express, it’s a fresh IP that hangs cheekily on the coat-tales of other mysteries. See How They Run leans heavily into the comic, but aside from a couple of very brief pratfalls, coasts along on such rare commodities as cleverness and wit; there’s wordplay linking The Mousetrap to the play from which it takes its name (Shakespeare’s Hamlet) as well as cinematic nods to Mario Bava (Blood and Black Lace 1964) and even Hitchcock’s last film Family Plot in an artfully staged car stunt. Such details may delight those who appreciate such ingenuity, but the basic plot passes muster, leading to a fiery finale in a remote English country house where the killer is finally identified.
While short on out-and-out comic set-pieces, See How They Run’s affectionate sending up of familiar murder-mystery tropes should delight genre fans; there’s a neat running gag about not understanding the difference between French and Belgian that relates directly to Poirot. Whether this is caviar to the general in terms of mainstream audiences remains to be seen, but Chappell and George deliver the laughs and intrigue in equal measure, with Rockwell and Ronan displaying enviable timing as the investigators. Her over-eagerness to identify the killer might reflect the viewer’s potential impatience for such quaintness, but See How they Run’s light touch and genial nature rewards those with a taste for the absurd. And against the background of a deliciously grimy post-war London, Williams gives a relishable supporting role as Attenborough, capturing the great man’s mannerisms with welcome affection and subtlety.
Thanks to Disney for big-screen access to See How They Run, which opens Sept 9th in the UK, and Sept 16th in the UK. seehowtheyrunmovie.com