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Thrillers remain a staple of the film industry, and in recent years, the number and quality of mystery movies has grown notably. These include Hollywood and independent American productions as well as international films from a diverse range of countries. The scope of works, too, is versatile, featuring classic whodunits, twisty psychological chillers, atmospheric noir tales, science fiction enigmas, and gripping films that elude simple classification. Three provocative examples follow, all streaming on Amazon video.

“The Dry” (2019)

Occasionally, a quietly spectacular film comes along and receives little notice. Such is the case with “The Dry,” a nearly perfect film noir, set in the heat and dust of Australia’s southern Victoria province.

Eric Bana, in a flawless performance, plays Aaron Falk, a government agent who is revisiting his home town to attend the funeral of a family of three people: Luke, a close friend from high school, his wife, and their young son. The grim deaths are immediately ascribed to murder-suicide. It is thought that Luke has shot himself and his kin while in the grip of the desperation that has enveloped the drought stricken farm community. Luke has been bankrupted, and the productivity and health of the area has been decimated by the arid conditions.

When Aaron returns home, he becomes embroiled in a dual mystery: what drove Luke to violence (if it were he), and who killed young Ellie, twenty years ago, Aaron’s girlfriend back then, who had spent her teenaged summers hanging out with him and Luke and another friend, Gretchen. Ellie had drowned in the nearby river, and Aaron had long been suspected of the death, especially since he had moved away almost immediately, and has not until now returned. It becomes apparent that the two crimes, separated by years, are somehow connected. Aaron must clear himself from the lingering shadow of suspicion, and probe the town’s web of secrets to disentangle the murders. He renews contact with the alluring Gretchen, who has remained in the area and is privy to a number of those secrets, and finds himself contending with several of the townspeople who harbor old grudges.

Bana is perfectly suited to his role: he captures the understated grace and determination of his character memorably. The portrait of rural Australia, bound to the past and unable to slough off the withering effects of the drought, is powerful. This one is not to be missed.

“I See You” (2020)

Oscar winner Helen Hunt returns to a starring role in this strangely compelling film as Jackie Harper, a suburban housewife, whose marriage to police detective Greg Harper is under severe stress. Jackie had recently had an affair, and though she has broken it off and is riddled with guilt, neither her husband nor her sullen teenage son, Connor, can bring themselves to forgive her. Greg sleeps on the couch and Connor acts out.

As the family is struggling to cope with its divisions, two parallel storylines ensue. In one, Greg is the lead investigator in the disappearance of a 10-year old boy who has apparently been abducted while riding his bike in the woods. The vanishing is eerily reminiscent of a similar case from 15 years ago; though the perpetrator of the earlier crime was seemingly captured and imprisoned, the parallels between the old and new cases invite speculation of a copycat transgressor or the fear that the wrong man was convicted.

In the second scenario, while the pressures of the investigation and marital difficulties hover, odd events seem to be plaguing the Harper household: a coffee cup shoots like a missile off the roof wounding Greg; the silverware is missing from its drawer in the kitchen, later to be found rotating inside the clothes dryer; shadows fall across rooms at night while people sleep. Cleverly, the film brings all of these strands together in a stunning series of climactic revelations. Jon Tenney, who plays Greg, is a fine actor who merits more lead roles. Helen Hunt is effective, but as viewers have commented again and again, Hunt’s face seems drained of its prior expressiveness, a potentially distracting element. Overall, though, I See You is a fiendishly clever exercise in mystification.

“An Inspector Calls” (2015)

This delicious British production is based on a 1945 play by the same title by J. B. Priestley, and is at least the fifth major version of the drama. It appeared originally on film in 1954, starring Alastair Sim as Inspector Goole and has been re-filmed several times, including once by a Hong Kong director. This 2015 adaptation is especially good and easily accessible. The story is set in 1910 in the home of wealthy English industrialist and local politician Arthur Birling (Ken Stott) who is awaiting news of his prospective knighthood.

The imperious Birling and his family — snooty wife Sybil (Miranda Richardson), daughter Sheila, rather vapid and naïve, and son Eric, a ne’er-do-well but privileged young man with a drinking habit — are sitting down to dinner to celebrate Sheila’s engagement to Gerald Croft, son of one of Birling’s main competitors. Their revels are interrupted by the sudden appearance of Inspector Goole (David Thewliss), who has come to tell them of the suicide of young Eva Smith, a department store clerk whom the members of the family all purport not to have known.

Gradually, it is revealed through a series of flash backs, that, au contraire, she had connections to each of those around the table, though all eschew any responsibility for her death. Arthur eventually admits that she had once been in his employ as a mill worker who was summarily dismissed for trying to organize her fellow laborers; Sheila confesses that she had tried to have Eva fired from another position out of jealousy over the younger woman’s beauty; and each of the others confesses to having wronged Eva in various ways, though at the time they felt self-righteously justified. These revelations convey the story’s focus on the ruinous consequences of class discrimination in England, and show the ways that the entitlement of the affluent constitutes a moral stain on the culture.

Of course, the plot is more complex than these summations suggest, and the various levels of guilt felt by the members of the circle are unveiled in interesting and differing ways. Which characters will take responsibility, and which won’t? And how does the Inspector know of their culpability? The film ends with a satisfactory swivel that some viewers may have surmised — but even guessing its last revelation will not minimize the pleasure of the mystery.

Liahna Armstrong is a retired professor of Literature and Film Studies at Central Washington University. She can be reached at

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