Creators of The OA, Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling, have crafted a gripping and haunting whodunit with A Murder at the End of the World, starring Emma Corrin (now on Disney+ in Canada).
What is 'A Murder at the End of the World' about?
Corrin plays Darby Hart, who we first meet at a book signing for her novel chronicling her journey as an amateur sleuth. As a teen Darby, along with her her then-boyfriend Bill (Harris Dickinson), who she met online, would scour the internet and use their hacking abilities to try to find serial killers in unsolved murder cases of unidentified women.
Still sleuthing as an adult, Darby gets an invitation to a retreat hosted by Andy Ronson (Clive Owen), a tech billionaire hosting a symposium at a luxury high-tech hotel, designed by Andy himself, in a remote area of Iceland "to discuss technology’s role in ensuring a human future."
Among the brilliant minds invited to this retreat is Andy's wife Lee (Marling), who is regarded as one of the world's greatest coders, who ended up having to go into hiding after being doxxed so significantly.
Darby is particularly taken aback when she realizes her ex-boyfriend Bill was invited to the retreat as well, bringing up all these feelings from her past.
But the trip suddenly turns sour when a retreat guest dies, leading Darby on a journey to use her sleuthing skills to solve a case of a possible murder right under her nose.
In terms of the initial inspiration for A Murder at the End of the World, it all started with the character Darby.
"I think, more than any other character we've written, she kind of came fully formed in our imaginations, and we could just see her and animate her so easily," Marling told Yahoo Canada. "Darby liked a hoodie and had headphones that were duct taped together, and wore sneakers and had a punk kind of aesthetic, but also listened to really femme music."
"She just spoke to us pretty immediately and the idea of writing a young amateur sleuth, somebody who felt very inspired to solve these cold cases where unidentified women were falling through the cracks. ... That she felt so compelled to solve them and authorized herself to solve them, that she believed in herself that she could, I think that just felt very alive and evocative to us. She demanded to be told, and so we did."
Emma Corrin shines: 'No one else could have played Darby'
In A Murder at the End of the World, Batmanglij and Marling crafted a particularly compelling trajectory for Darby specifically, but where the film really impacts the audience is in the way the mystery is paced.
In each episode, the timeline shifts between present day and Darby's past, largely sleuthing with Bill. As more is revealed about her younger years, the events of the present also become more clear in a really alluring journey.
"Sometimes with detective stories, ... who they are in the beginning is who they are in the end," Marling said. "In a lot of detective stories it's the case that gets solved, that's the arc, but the detective kind of largely stays the iconic same."
"We felt in writing Darby Hart that we really wanted to do a detective story in which the character had to evolve or become somehow a more mature version of themselves in order to solve the crime. I think the past became a really big part of that and Darby's attempt to understand what had happened to her when she fell in love for the first time, with another amateur sleuth over the internet, and they set out on this sort of Badlands-esque journey, Bonnie and Clyde journey, to solve these cases."
As Marling explained, it's a more "circular" approach to a detective story, as opposed to linear storytelling.
"[It] seemed to present a challenge for making a detective story that was also a coming of age story, but not in a tongue in cheek, Nancy Drew, kind of way. But more an invitation for all of us to solve some of the crimes we commit against ourselves in the past, as a way of trying to evolve enough to handle the challenges of the present, or the future," Marling said.
Corrin's portrayal of Darby is particularly impactful and as the series creators described, the actor really embodied the character.
"Most of my interactions [with Emma] have been with Darby," Batmanglij said. "It was just a nice match where there was someone who was that age, who was that smart, who could play that part and play it with a lot of authority."
"Brit and I believe that a tech billionaire in his late 50s could go toe-to-toe with a young woman in her 20s. I think Emma made golden on that promise between me and Brit, the finale was about seeing them go head-to-head, and ... no one else could have played Darby."
The positives and 'vulnerability' of AI, technology
With AI and technology embedded into the series, it's a particularly interesting time to explore the positives and negatives of advancements in that space, very much a timely discussion.
Marling explained that at every turn in the series there was a decision to look at those benefits and pitfalls.
"I think Zal and I would not necessarily be filmmakers if we hadn't come of age at the exact moment that you could have a laptop in your dorm room and Final Cut Pro software, and even an SLR camera that could shoot video," Marling said. "Suddenly filmmaking, which had been so expensive and so other, and so for a rarefied group, was suddenly available for the masses."
"I think there's so much beauty to the things that some technologies allow us, and certainly in this story Darby can authorize herself to solve it because she spent all this time as a detective, her 10,000 hours logged on the internet solving these cold cases with other amateur sleuths. There's a beauty to that. Then of course, it also cuts both ways. I think her relationship with Bill, in some ways, is stunted in the beginning because their courtship happened through a screen, they don't actually know the intimacy or awkwardness, or strangeness, they haven't risked the vulnerability of being embodied and present with each other."
From the way A Murder at the End of the World unveils its story, to the feeling you get moving between the stark and cold Icelandic hotel, contrasted with the warmer tones you see in Darby's past, the one thing the series has a lot of is feeling.
Sometimes it feels eerie, some moments are more comfortable, but through the seven episodes, you'll definitely feel something in this mystery tale.
Where to watch 'A Murder at the End of the World'
A Murder at the End of the World premieres on Disney+ in Canada Nov. 14, with the first two episodes.
The remaining episodes will be released weekly.