It’s entirely possible that the whole concept of twists has lost its charm due to the overconsumption of media. Filmmakers are aware of the fact that viewers are privy to every imaginable twist in existence. Hence, they go out of their way to surprise us, thereby creating something that is too preposterous to be believable. In some cases, as viewers, we overwork our brains in an attempt to outsmart the film that we are watching before the film can outsmart us because we assume that our knowledge of the genre makes us better than everyone else. Hence, when the film that we are watching doesn’t meet our overblown expectations, we critique it negatively because we can’t accept that we aren’t as smart as we think we are. Additionally, it’s totally possible that some of these mysteries are too meandering to excite us with a paltry twist. That said, which of these categories does the recently released Netflix film, The Murderer, fall into? Let’s find out.
Wisit Sasanatieng’s The Murderer, which has been written by Abishek J. Bajaj, follows Officer Nawat interrogating various members of a family living in a remote part of a village in Thailand after a night of murder and mayhem. Sai and her White husband, Earl, came to visit her parents, Boonluck and Jan. The elderly couple wasn’t very pleased with Sai’s marriage to Earl because he’s British. Meanwhile, Sai wasn’t happy about June (Sai’s niece) staying in the village, and she wanted to take her away to Bangkok so that she would get a chance to expand her wings. June is the result of the marriage between Sai’s brother, Kai, and Tukta. After their divorce, June continued to stay with her father and grandparents, while Tukta married Jonathan Samson and had a son with him named Jamie. Then there’s Sai’s widowed aunt, Par, and Sai’s ex-husband, Phet, who is a good friend of Kai’s. All of them got together for a dinner party. However, due to a blackout probably caused by an impending storm, their pent-up emotions got the better of them and led to some deaths. Since foreigners are looked down upon in Thailand, Earl is painted as the prime suspect. But the truth is something entirely different.
Given the slapstick nature of The Murderer, it’s very easy to overlook what Bajaj is doing on a thematic level. So, let’s not do that! The most obvious thing that the film is poking fun at is the aversion to foreigners. Everyone from Asia knows that Thailand has gone from being just another vacation spot to a tourism hub, with people coming from all over the globe and trying to appropriate their culture. Boonluck and Jan’s reaction to Earl marrying Sai is a knee-jerk reaction against the fetish for the foreign and exotic that White people usually have. But they go overboard with it and fail to see that Earl is a boring dude who genuinely loves their daughter. Earl, Jonathan, Kai, Phet, and Boonluck personify various aspects of masculinity. While Earl is comfortable with who he is and doesn’t resort to misogyny in order to prove his worth, the rest suffer from insecurity and entitlement, which causes them to lash out against the female members of their family. Jan and Auntie Par show how women can exhibit internalized misogyny and peddle sexist traditions, while Sai proves that moving away from a regressive place can help one grow and create avenues for other women, which in this case is June.
The Murderer also generates comedy by making a mockery of the police. Despite his loud behavior and his fearsome looks, Nawat isn’t all that competent. He makes the stupidest assumptions about the suspects. When he is proven to be wrong, he doesn’t even have the humility to accept that he isn’t really good at his job. He makes up a ludicrous backstory for the scar on his face to seem like a badass. However, it becomes evident that it’s the result of a stupid mistake committed by him. Long story short, given how much leeway the police get in real life just because they are in that profession, if you make the police look like the self-serious jokers that they are, you get a thumbs-up from me. But enough about the characters. Let’s talk about the twist without exactly talking about the twist. In my opinion, the recipe for a good twist is that it has to recontextualize the entire story. If it only has shock value and does nothing to make the audience think about the narrative, then it is pointless. Additionally, the breadcrumbs have to be visible so that we can notice them on a rewatch after learning about the shocking revelation. You can’t lazily reverse-engineer the breadcrumbs to fit the nature of the twist. And I’m happy to report that the twist (one of them) in The Murderer does all of the above.
The place where The Murderer falters is in its pacing. Director Wisit Sasanatieng and his team do a good enough job of keeping things visually dynamic and engaging. The contrast between what actually unfolded and Nawat’s imaginary version of those events is hilarious, and it’s achieved through clever lighting, simple camera angles, and a change in tone. In fact, despite the gratuitous nature of the violence, it’s because of Wisit’s smart handling of the tone that it never gets too serious. And by gratuitous, I mean that you do get to see people getting run over by trucks, impaled with pitchforks, and shot in the head. So prepare yourselves accordingly. The VFX and CGI are quite good. The sound design and the songs go a long way in terms of giving you an immersive experience. However, coming back to the pacing, after a point, it seems like the movie is going in circles instead of going forward. I understand the importance of showing every single vantage point to create confusion and suspense. That said, some of those vantage points take up too much screen time, thereby disallowing the other vantage points from getting their due.
As for the performances in The Murderer, I don’t think anyone will be surprised if I say that the entire cast has knocked it out of the park. From the get-go, Phetthai Vongkhumlao had me in splits. To paint a picture, it’s the kind of role that someone like Rajpal Yadav or Johnny Lever would get if this film was made in India. I don’t mean any disrespect to either of those Bollywood actors, but they’d overstay their welcome after the first 15 minutes. Phetthai, though, consistently manages to be hilarious without compromising the pitch of his character. I think he achieves that effect by truly committing to the role. He never winks at the audience. He believes he is Nawat, and that’s why it’s amazing to watch him for two whole hours. Eisaya Hosuwan is the heart of the film, as well as the audience surrogate. Sompong Choptham and Sawanee Utoomma make for a great, bigoted on-screen couple. Chotpipat Suttijun and Suthin Khotatha oscillate between shades of annoying and physical comedy, and they are great. Sunaree Ratchasima’s portrayal of Par’s constant paranoia is funny. Khuanruean Lohakand and Jonathan Samson are memorable despite their limited screen time. That said, it’s James Laver and Chananticha Chaipa who steal the show. I can’t say why because it’s spoiler-y in nature. So, you have to take my word for it.
One of the many ways to describe The Murderer is that it’s a lighthearted amalgamation of Bodies Bodies Bodies and The Usual Suspects, which comments on sexism, internalized misogyny, fetish for the foreign, hatred towards foreigners, and how Karma has a way of resolving such universal issues. Like every other movie that I have enjoyed, I would’ve loved to see this on the big screen with a theater full of people and listen to them react to every joke, every twist, and every twist to subvert the previous twist. I understand that watching whodunnits in your personal space has its own charm. But once you get a taste of watching it with an audience (a good, engaged, and reactive audience, BTW), I don’t think you’ll ever want to watch it by yourself. This is a very long-winded way of saying that if you don’t want to watch this film on your own, gather your friends and/or family, give them a little disclaimer about the explicit stuff, and then enjoy it together. And once you are done forming an opinion of your own, feel free to share it with the rest of us.