Released: 27th February
Seen: 3rd March
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries was an Australian drama series based on the novels by author Kerry Greenwood. It ran for 3 years, airing 32 episodes on the ABC and getting a spin-off, Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, in 2019. The show itself was a decent hit by Australian standards and got average reviews throughout its run. The series fans did what a lot of fans do when a series they love ends, begged for them to go again one more time and thus we have been blessed with Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears, a film that knows it needs to be more impressive than the TV series was but somehow fails to find its footing.
The film opens with the titular Miss Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis) rescuing a young girl named Shirin Abbas (Izabella Yena) from a prison in Jerusalem. Upon getting Shrin out of jail, via a series of shenanigans that culminates in people believing that Fisher is dead for several weeks with literally no follow up once it’s revealed that she’s alive, they learn about a mysterious massacre and stolen gem. There are several murders and a potentially intriguing idea surrounding a curse (that never ends up actually impacting the plot) and everyone is very rich and British and witty. It’s basically the Downton Abbey movie except occasionally something bordering on exciting happens and everything is a lot less sweet.
For context, I didn’t watch the original series. Murder mystery TV series have always confused me, partially because if murders kept happening in the town that I lived in then I’d move but mostly because the concept was perfected in the ‘80s when Angela Lansbury did it. This means that everything that came before, I’ve got no clue about. It also means I don’t count among the fans who this was clearly made for, so when I say “Oh god, it’s boring and doesn’t understand how you do murder mysteries in film”, take into account that if you like the series I feel like this is probably just more of what you’re already used to. Me? Well, I saw Knives Out several months ago, I have standards for cinematic murder mysteries and this doesn’t cut it.
To give the film some semblance of praise, the acting is top-notch all around which shouldn’t shock anyone considering that they’re led by the obscenely talented Essie Davis who you might know from The Babadook (if you don’t, go watch The Babadook, a much better film than the one I’m going to have to keep talking about for a few hundred more words) and a great spot by Miriam Margolyes. Hell, there’s another great thing about this film, it means Miriam Margolyes has an excuse to go back on the talk show circuit and do another Graham Norton spot. I’d much prefer that to this film.
I’m afraid I don’t have much else in the way of praise for this film. I can forgive some of the bad visual effects because the budget was so low they needed multiple crowdfunding pledge drives to get this thing made but what I can’t forgive is a story that just doesn’t work. I tried, desperately, to get on board with this idea but I just couldn’t. It has several different ‘mysteries’ that mostly get solved just by the person responsible admitting they did the bad thing out of the blue. The massacre that is responsible for Shirin’s family’s death, AKA the start of the plot? We just get told who did it by the people who did it, there’s no grand scene where Fisher finds a clue to solve the case, the bad guy just says he did the bad thing. Several other characters are murdered, their murderer literally walks out of the shadows and says “Hi, I did all that murder, sorry about that but I had reasons” and then explains those reasons instead of, ya know, having clues pop up so the main character and the audience can try to solve it. Hell, the curse thing I keep bringing up is effectively pointless because not only is no one actually cursed, it’s basically just an excuse to get everyone to the same spot by the end of the film, which is extra pointless when you realise that all of the main characters of the film basically live in the same giant house where one of the murders happened and they could’ve done the big reveal there and maybe not made it feel as forced.
All the problems basically rotate around this inability to make the central mysteries actually interesting or solvable. There’s nothing to invest in beyond a tepid relationship built on anger and banter and that’s basically it. The characters are fine, but all seem content enough that I don’t care about what happens to them. Maybe if you’re a fan of the series you’re invested because some of these characters are from the show and you, therefore, would have several years to get to know them, but it means that potential new audiences are left out in the cold without anyone to care about. No one’s growing, no one’s changing, it all just feels like a bunch of rich white people decided to go off on an adventure because the tea was cold and they needed something to pass the time.
Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears is not welcoming to those unfamiliar with her previous work but I also have a strong feeling that people who liked the series might have a tough time following this plot. It relies heavily on the charm of characters who don’t seem to have any unless you’re familiar with them already. It feels like this was meant to be a series finale aired on the ABC at 8 pm on a Thursday and ended up getting a cinematic release because the Australian film industry is desperate to prove that we do more down here than just give Marvel cheap locations to shoot. I wish I liked it, I really do, but I’m afraid that I just don’t get what people like about this show. To me, its popularity is a mystery that I won’t be solving today.