Mystery lives up to its name as it gradually and stylishly unravels the secret and painful lives of its central characters, revealing sordid lies and utter betrayal at the core of this family’s story.
Opening with a horrific car accident that leaves a young girl lying dead in the middle of the road, this film pulls no punches from the off, launching immediately into a world of bleak and shocking reality. It’s steeped in neo-noir style, showing a dramatic event in the opening sequence and then plonking you into the mundane lives of a seemingly loving family as if nothing had happened. This isn’t the first time this technique has been used, so the audience is aware that there must be more than meets the eye within this happy family and you’re just waiting for the connection with the dead girl to be exposed.
Although not original in its dramatic or narrative conventions then, Mystery triumphs by virtue of its complete dedication to its story, its characters and, in particular, the actors portraying those characters. These are deeply enigmatic people, eliciting conflicting responses as their paths become increasingly and irreversibly entwined. The husband, Yongzhao, is especially hard to decipher as he seems to genuinely love his wife and child whilst simultaneously being a compulsive cheat. One scene involving a violent rape challenges even the hardiest of viewers not to squirm slightly but this only serves to pull you deeper into this ever-unraveling world.
This film sets its stall out as a murder mystery whodunit but it knowingly plays with its own themes and genre stereotype to deliver a far more powerful and insightful piece of modern cinema. Genuinely innovative and interesting cinematography combined with deeply believable performances make this a realistic and, at times, harrowing portrait of the brutal consequences of deceit and betrayal.