Mysteries are hard enough for law enforcement and amateur sleuths alike to solve. However, when you add the small town element to a case, that opens investigations up into a whole new level of difficulty. For detectives coming in from the outside, the close-knit community might not be keen to help you follow up any leads. For local detectives, they might not have the same kind of experience and resources investigators pick up in bustling cities. And for the locals affected by these cases, it is devastatingly frustrating to be dismissed, overlooked, and condescended to by investigators who don't value your way of life and the things you've lost.
Of course, as an audience, small town mystery movies are full of the drama we crave. It doesn't matter if you live in the world's largest metropolis or the tiniest town around, all the tension of these nail-biting films are available right on your own small screen. Here are eight of the best small town mystery movies you can watch tonight.
When college student Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) returns to his quaint hometown of Lumberton to help his sick father, a walk through a field has him stumbling across a severed human ear. After bringing information to the police, Jeffery sets out to investigate the unsettling case on his own, leading him to nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini). With help from the teenage daughter of the local lead police detective, Sandy Williams (Laura Dern), Jeffrey follows the dangerous trail—only to get tangled up with a group of psychotic criminals.
In the Ozark Mountains, 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) has been taking care of her younger siblings and disabled mother all on her own. It hasn't been an easy task, as the family is beyond destitute. And everything gets harder when Sheriff Baskin (Garret Dillahunt) arrives to tell her that if her father, who's out of jail on bail for manufacturing meth, doesn't appear for his court date, the family will lose their home. To save her family, Ree must track down her father who has disappeared without a trace, pushing her kin into breaking the local code of silence.
In the Heat of the Night
When Black Philadelphia police detective Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) passes through Sparta, Mississippi, the racial tensions of the south lead to him being arrested for the murder of a prominent local businessman. When the mistake comes to light and local police chief Gillespie (Rod Steiger) learns that Tibbs is the top homicide expert for the Philadelphia PD, the man reluctantly asks for his help. Despite the hostile attitudes and ever-present danger facing him in town, Detective Tibbs dedicates himself to solving the case.
Young police officer Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten) and his pregnant wife, Alice (Claire van der Boom), relocate to the small Australian town of Red Hill. From the first day on the job, the head of the police department, William "Old Bill" Jones (Steve Bisley), regards him with open hostility—and it doesn't get easier from there. When a convicted murderer arrested by Old Bill escapes from prison, an all-out manhunt ensues. But this wild day on the job is deadlier than Shane could have ever expected.
How could any small town mystery movie list be complete without Fargo? While this crime thriller will have you on the edge of your seat, it also delivers some dark laughs, too. In a small Minnesota town, car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) devises a dastardly scheme to get his dealership out of financial trouble. Jerry hires two felons—Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare)—from Fargo, North Dakota to kidnap his wife and hold her for ransom from her wealthy father. However, the kidnapping goes wrong from the start, and as blood starts to spill, pregnant sheriff Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) takes on the case.
Full of off-the-wall humor, Hot Fuzz isn't quite like the gritty British crime dramas that are often so popular. London police officer Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is good at his job—a little too good. When his efficiency makes the rest of the department look bad, he's reassigned to the quiet country town of Sandford. Impressed by his incredible record, Angel's new partner, Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) barrages him with questions about his old high-speed lifestyle. The locals aren't quite so impressed with Angel's strict rule-keeping. But when two decapitated bodies turn up, Angel finds the town might not be so peaceful after all.
Small Town Murder Songs
In a small Ontario town, Walter (Peter Stormare) is the chief of police. Ripples of shock roll through the town with its first murder victim—a young woman found naked by a lake. Since the victim wasn't local, the Ontario Provincial Police take the lead on the case. But as Walter helps where he can with the case, he must also reconcile his own secretly violent past.
When a young Indigenous woman is found dead on the Wind River Indian Reservation, game tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) teams up with inexperienced FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to find who's responsible. With jurisdictional issues and cold-shoulders from locals and transient workers, the case is slow moving. But as Lambert has his own tragic loss, his quest for justice won't be forgotten. This gripping drama is a great start to the conversation on the rampant issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.