We Value Your Privacy

This site uses cookies to improve user experience. By continuing to browse, you accept the use of cookies and other technologies.


These Meta Mystery Movies Add Fresh Dimension to the Usual Tropes

Clever puzzles to keep you guessing.

Meta Mystery Movies, still shot from Murder Mystery for Jennifer Anniston and Adam Sandler
  • camera-icon
  • Photo Credit: Netflix

When it comes to horror and thrillers that get all metaphysical, there’s a veritable treasure trove to choose from. Be it Scream or The Cabin in the Woods, you’ll be able to dive into the deep end of the metaphysical pool and satiate those urges to be part of a narrative that knows it’s a narrative.

But what about mystery? Are there films that are inherently self-aware, narratives built by tropes and literary techniques like the red herring and the double-cross? The answer is “yes, and…” with a full slate of metaphysical mystery movies that are at times so self-aware they carry their own inside jokes.

We gathered a crop of meta mystery films that use the tropes of the genre itself to surprise, delight, and confound.

Knives Out

Director Rian Johnson has always been a mystery and noir aficionado. His debut film, Brick, starred a then somewhat unknown Joseph Gordon Levitt in a suburb high school redone in the tones and darkness of a gritty hardboiled noir. In Knives Out (and to a lesser extent, its sequel, Glass Onion), Johnson doubles down on his acumen for the genre.

The premise is fairly simple: The head of a wealthy family is murdered and a detective named Benoit Blanc is mysteriously enlisted to solve the case. Of course, the twists and turns are what keep people watching, and what will endear itself so well is how Johnson is able to get so meta with the manner of each notch of intrigue, so much that you feel like you yourself are being led and duped by the film itself. It’s a fun, masterful film and, of course, a must-watch.

Murder Mystery 

Keeping with the undercurrent of a fun mystery, Murder Mystery is a major-budget film designed to play out the whodunnit side of the mystery genre by way of tapping into the feel-good comedy vein. Starring both Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, Murder Mystery is about a middle-class New York City couple worn down by the daily grind. Aniston’s character yearns for the various plans and promises for traveling and seeing the world, and when her husband finally makes good on it, they find themselves on a crazy yacht headed for what becomes a pseudo-manufactured murder mystery situation.

The film is full of charm and comedy, the kind of film to kick back and see the various tropes coming and what makes the movie work is that it knows that you know, and it knows what it is. Everyone’s in it for the escape.

Game Night

In the same vein as Murder Mystery, Game Night brings the funny, feel-good whodunnit to the metaphysical side of things by way of the textbook comfortable, somewhat bored upper-middle-class couple living a life in the suburbs, obsessed with games and particularly trivia. When they decide to host a game night, things turn that self-aware corner when the couple ends up in a real-life kidnapping murder mystery game.

The characters are initially unable to suspend disbelief until things worsen to the point of being unable to NOT be real, and that’s where the film really gets clever and, well, funny. It’s great when you see a movie with all the makings of the usual big-budget trappings make a clear note of itself as being just that. And then it turns the volume up to keep you invested for the entire ride.

The Nice Guys

Few would ever expect Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling to have so much on-screen chemistry yet in the 2016 film The Nice Guys, we see the pair become the unlikeliest and most entertaining detective duos in the last couple decades. Holland March is a brutish gun-for-hire picking up pretty much any job that can help him make ends meet. The same goes for Jackson Healy, another PI, picking up missing-persons cases that often lead nowhere. The two end up teaming up when they both end up searching for the disappearance of a girl that may or may not involve both the porn and automotive industries.

Where the film really excels is in its humor and playfulness with the whole mystery. Often the film makes it so that the mystery itself isn’t even the point; it’s the case, the act of finding and figuring it out. More so, it’s about seeing both detectives bumble their way through the entirety of it, playing into and playing with all the usual noir tropes. It’s kind of a shame there hasn’t been a sequel.


When Searching first hit theaters, the buzz around the film had much to do with the method of delivery. The film went hyper-modern and decided to set the entire film, every scene, and development, within the computer screens, the devices used by a family befalling a tragedy.

As the title implicates, Searching is about a family grieving and barely getting by emotionally after the loss of a parent. The father, lonely and struggling to be a parent to his daughter, has his life once again turned upside down when she goes missing. He uses everything from text messages to search engines to deep-dives on the web to find his daughter. The film is an excellent reimagining of essential mystery beats, and effectively transposes them on the modern technologies that really do consume our lives.

Seven Psychopaths

Director Martin McDonagh really has a style all his own; equal parts transgressive and self-deprecating, his films (In Bruges, The Banshees of Inisherin) always seem to be so self-aware of the themes and the imperfections of its characters and the stories they need to tell. In Seven Psychopaths, McDonagh points his lens onto Hollywood, the writer, and a broken, falling-apart mystery that blossoms through a search for inspiration.

A successful screenwriter, Marty is hit with writer's block on his new script, the eponymously titled Seven Psychopaths. He has a friend named Billy who is beyond eccentric and tries to inspire him through increasingly bizarre acts, all of them building into their own script, or rather an intricate narrative mystery that examines the very nature of the genre and our motivations for needing solutions to every quandary.

Rear Window

We’re not talking about any of the films that essentially rewrote/remade this Hitchcock classic (ahem, Disturbia). In Rear Window, Hitchcock uses his mastery of suspense to conjure a domestic mystery that is effectively limited by its choice to keep the perspective exclusive to an injured, bored man with a broken leg.

Jeff is a photographer that is stuck in his room, his main activity being to people-watch from his window. Whether his mind starts to go due to the boredom, or the heat wave hitting the city, he begins to glimpse increasingly odd behavior across the people living around him and populating the nearby blocks. Rear Window folds the very nature of the mystery in on itself, causing viewers to inspect every aspect of perspective, of what the film itself is, the act of voyeurism becoming a mirror for everyone watching.