Journey into Mystery

Who does that shadow belong to? Where is my magnifying glass? Why is my butler missing?

We like to ask questions? Don’t we? They may not sound like those ones, but we ask many questions every day to help us do our jobs, make decisions and understand the world around us. In fact, there’s something stimulating when we learn new information. Whether it’s watching a breaking news story unfold or simply learning something we didn’t know before, we like to gather clues and apply what we know to satisfy our curiosity and wonderment.

This is why it can be thrilling to watch movies or read books that invite us to exercise this joy for discovery. There are many great mystery movies out there and the following few are available without requiring much detective work on your part.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975, PG)

Australian Peter Weir, who brought us such films as The Truman Show, The Dead Poets’ Society, and Witness, played an influential role in his native country by directing this film. He employed an artistic form of storytelling and filmmaking that raised the standard for movie productions coming from down under.

The film centers on a girls’ school, at the turn of the 20th century, and a field trip the class takes. While picnicking at the base of a large rock formation, several of the girls decide to explore and take a leisurely hike up “Hanging Rock.” In a trance-like spell, the girls are drawn in, continuing to stray further and further away until they cannot be found. Naturally, the school and town are in disarray as they meticulously search for the vanished schoolgirls.

Its eerie and mysterious tone mixed with rich, romantic colors makes for a unique experience. The unorthodox story poses questions without aiming to reveal answers. It’ll be featured on TCM, Friday night, at 8 p.m., followed by a couple of Weir’s other works.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991, R)

Winner of the top five Academy Awards (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Writing), this cerebral thriller follows FBI agent Clarice Starling as she puts her aptitude to the test in order to track down the deviant serial killer known as “Buffalo Bill.” The case proves to be especially tormenting when she must seek instruction from the like-minded psychopath, Dr. Hannibal Lector. Clarice must maintain her nerve and protect her wits as the slimy Lector tries worming his way into her psyche while cryptically offering help. She learns that she will have to search her own fears and traumas to find the answers she needs to solve the case.

If you didn’t pick up on it, this is a pretty grim film. It’s a thick, well-composed story with concentrated amounts of gruesome terror. The cast all give fine performances, most notably Anthony Hopkins as the devilish Lector. The production actually took place not far from here, in the greater Pittsburgh area, so the atmosphere is sure to make you feel at home. It’s available on Netflix.

Chinatown (1974, R)

Directed by Roman Polanski, Jack Nicholson plays cool private investigator Jake Gittes. After he finds he has been set up, he becomes immersed in a complicated plot involving a femme fatale, her dead husband, and a civil war for water rights in Los Angeles. We tag alongside Gittes as he sleuths around the town with his bag of detective tricks, uncovering the ever-growing conspiracy in which he is merely a pawn.

The aesthetics of Chinatown are top notch. Stylistically taking place in 1930s on the hot California coast, you can feel the heat on your brow. Adding to the noir-like atmosphere is the score which usually consists of a lone, sustaining trumpet symbolic of a solitary figure loitering through a shadowy world. Put on your detective cap and find it on Netflix.

(Reece Kelly, a native of East Liverpool, studied Film at Regent University. He can be reached at