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15 Best Mystery Movies Of 2021

At the heart of every mystery movie is a question that needs answers. Many mysteries wrap themselves up by revealing the mind-blowing truth at the heart of their tales. Other mysteries don't (or can't) provide a tidy solution. Sometimes, the answer is too complex for one story to handle adequately, from the origins of the universe to the workings of the human heart. Other times, it's more fun to let an audience twist in uncertainty. In some cases, there's no answer because there simply is no answer.

The 15 mystery films on this list all hit theaters and streaming services in 2021. Many of them trade in ambiguous unease, while others end explosively. Several films are from first-time directors, many of whom are women. More than one deals with the intrusion of the unexplainable into everyday life. What unites them all is the question beating like a heart at the center of their stories, too powerful to be ignored. These are the 15 best mystery movies of 2021, listed in order of release.

Saint Maud

Writer-director Rose Glass' almost unbearably tense feature debut concerns the eponymous Maud (Morfydd Clark), a fiercely devout young woman working as a hospice nurse to Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a dancer suffering from lymphoma. Maud's growing obsession with Amanda intertwines with her spiraling religious mania; the question becomes not whether she is sincere in her beliefs, but what she is capable of doing in service to them. This film's portrait of sickness and isolation fits all too well into the pandemic-ravaged world.

  • Starring: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Frazer
  • Director: Rose Glass
  • Runtime: 84 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

Lapsis

This sci-fi satire takes aim at the gig economy, e-commerce, tech utopianism, and the fear that robots will take our jobs. Small-time striver Ray (Dean Imperial) takes a job with an app called CBLR (pronounced "cabler"), which requires him to run long cables through the forest for the sake of the quantum trading market. But all is not what it seems. Ray soon has to contend with hostile co-workers, (admittedly very cute) robots who can run cable just as well as he can, and the mystery behind the codename CBLR has assigned him: Lapsis Beeftech.

  • Starring: Dean Imperial, Madeline Wise, Babe Howard
  • Director: Noah Hutton
  • Runtime: 108 minutes
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%

Sequin in a Blue Room

An Australian teen known only as Sequin (Conor Leach) uses a dating app to arrange anonymous hook-ups with older men. When he receives an invitation to an anonymous sex party at a club called the Blue Room, he accepts — and that's where his troubles begin. This isn't a moralistic tale of Gen Z depravity — director Samuel Van Grinsven trusts his audience to be able to keep two thoughts in their head at once. What results is a tale that is enthralling, unapologetically queer, and dangerous.

  • Starring: Conor Leach, Simon Croker, Ed Wightman
  • Director: Samuel Van Grinsven
  • Runtime: 83 minutes
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

The Dry

An excellent cast led by Eric Bana buoys this Australian potboiler. Big city cop Aaron Falk (Bana) returns to his hometown in the middle of nowhere to attend the funeral of a childhood friend who murdered his own family before killing himself. Though he's not officially part of the investigation, Aaron soon becomes wrapped up in the mystery of his friend's demise — and how it might be related to a young girl's mysterious death from decades earlier.

  • Starring: Eric Bana, Genevieve O'Reilly, Keir O'Donnell
  • Director: Robert Connolly
  • Runtime: 117 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

Tragic Jungle

The Mayan legend of Xtabay, a female demon who seduces and murders men, gets an anti-colonialist retelling from writer-director Yulene Olaizola. It's the early 1920s, and Agnes (Indira Andrewin) and her sister are fleeing British Honduras for Mexico. But when they are captured and killed en route, Agnes mysteriously rises from the dead. Soon, she's luring local men to their doom in the jungle. Is she the ancient Xtabay, or is something else going on? Answers don't come easily in this sensuous, surreal drama.

  • Starring: Indira Andrewin, Gilberto Barraza, Shantai Obispo
  • Director: Yulene Olaizola
  • Runtime: 96 minutes
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%

The Boy Behind the Door

12-year-old boys Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey) are abducted in broad daylight and brought to a dark old house. While Bobby manages to escape, the cries of Kevin, trapped behind a locked door, bring him back. He's desperate to save his friend, but to do so, he'll have to evade the axe-wielding stranger who kidnapped them. What follows is a terrifically taut cat-and-mouse game from directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell that manages to be both timely and timeless.

  • Starring: Lonnie Chavis, Ezra Dewey, Micah A. Hauptman
  • Director: David Charbonier, Justin Powell
  • Runtime: 88 minutes
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%

Raging Fire

Hong Kong action legend Donnie Yen suits up for this extremely old-school cops-versus-criminals yarn. Cheung (Yen), a righteous cop, is hot on the trail of a band of masked criminals who are targeting police officers. The leader of the group is revealed to be Yau (Nicholas Tse), a former officer and Cheung's protégé, who crossed over to the dark side after being sent to jail for a crime he didn't commit. Both men are out for revenge, and the streets of Hong Kong are their battleground. Yen is at the top of his game here — he even manages to convincingly play a character he's about 20 years too old for.

  • Starring: Donnie Yen, Nicholas Tse, Qin Lan
  • Director: Benny Chan
  • Runtime: 126 minutes
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

The Night House

Rebecca Hall stars as Beth, a woman grieving her husband's recent suicide. Hiding away in the lake house they built together, she struggles to keep herself on an even keel. She is particularly haunted by her husband's cryptic suicide note — and that's before the mysterious noises and bloody footprints start showing up. This film works best as a showcase for the magnetic Hall, who rarely gets to flex her muscles in a lead performance like this. She is raw, prickly, and endlessly compelling.

  • Starring: Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis-Hall
  • Director: David Bruckner
  • Runtime: 110 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%

No Man of God

Based on real-life interviews between FBI analyst Bill Hagmaier and serial killer Ted Bundy, Netflix's "No Man of God" is anchored by two razor-sharp performances from Elijah Wood (Hagmaier) and Luke Kirby (Bundy). While their dynamic can't help but recall Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs," and while there have been a number of documentaries and feature films about Bundy in recent years, director Amber Sealey and writer C. Robert Cargill (credited as Kit Lesser) subtly reframe this well-worn material by focusing on Hagmaier and his quest for justice for Bundy's victims, rather than salacious details.

  • Starring: Elijah Wood, Luke Kirby, Aleksa Palladino
  • Director: Amber Sealey
  • Runtime: 100 minutes
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%

Fever Dream

The fears of motherhood are given mystical weight in "Fever Dream." Amanda (Maria Valverde) and her daughter are spending the summer in the small town her father grew up in. They immediately fall in with Carola (Dolores Fonzi) and her young son. Carola seems to believe that part of her son's soul left his body when he was poisoned as a baby. As she and Amanda become ever more entwined, it becomes difficult to discern what is natural and what is supernatural.

  • Starring: Dolores Fonzi, Maria Valverde, Guillermo Pfening
  • Director: Claudia Llosa
  • Runtime: 93 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 70%

Detention

Supernatural horror meets historical reckoning in "Detention." Set in 1960s Taiwan during the period of authoritarian suppression known as the "White Terror," this film begins with a schoolteacher's underground literary club. After this teacher is taken away by the police, student Fang Ray-shin (Gingle Wang) finds herself trapped in a surreal, nightmarish version of her school, where monsters and ghosts roam the hallways. In examining historical atrocity through a genre lens, "Detention" reaches haunting and mysterious heights.

  • Starring: Gingle Wang, Fu Meng-po, Tseng Jing-hua
  • Director: John Hsu
  • Runtime: 105 minutes
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%

Only the Animals

When a beautiful woman goes missing in a remote French village, everyone's a suspect — or at least, everyone has something to hide. Broken into five nonlinear chapters, "Only the Animals" reveals itself a little at a time. As a result, it's best not to go into this film knowing too much. While its snowy locale and dry humor may evoke inevitable comparisons to "Fargo," there is much more going on in Dominik Moll's film than mere pastiche. 

  • Starring: Laure Calamy, Denis Menochet, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi
  • Director: Dominik Moll
  • Runtime: 117 minutes
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

Last Night in Soho

Edgar Wright explores the perils of nostalgia in this eerie thriller. After moving to London, 1960s-obsessed fashion student Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) is beset by vivid dreams of a glamorous chanteuse named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) living in the city's swinging heyday. But dreams can curdle into nightmares, and soon, Ellie fears Sandie's violent fate will become her own. Wright offers up an eye-popping, better-than-real recreation of mid-'60s London, complete with all the impeccable needle drops one would expect from the director of "Baby Driver."

The Summit of the Gods

There are several mysteries at the heart of "The Summit of the Gods." There's the mystery of the pocket-sized camera that supposedly came from George Mallory's failed 1924 attempt to climb Mount Everest. There's the mystery of reclusive climber Habu Joji (Eric Herson-Macarel), who disappeared from the sport after a series of accidents. Finally, there's the mystery of why people risk their lives to climb Everest at all. Patrick Imbert doesn't have answers to all these questions: Like its characters, the film finds transcendence at the top of a mountain.

  • Starring: Eric Herson-Macarel, Damien Boisseau, Elisabeth Ventura
  • Director: Patrick Imbert
  • Runtime: 90 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

The Scary of Sixty-First

20-somethings Addie (Betsey Brown) and Noelle (Madeline Quinn) find a suspiciously affordable apartment in New York's Upper East Side. Soon, they discover why the rent is so cheap: This apartment was once owned by Jeffrey Epstein. Noelle proceeds to fall down a conspiracy theory rabbit hole, while Addie experiences a bizarre sort of psuedo-possession. Dasha Nekrasova's debut feature has polarized critics, but no one can deny it's a daring and singular work.

  • Starring: Betsey Brown, Madeline Quinn, Dasha Nekrasova
  • Director: Dasha Nekrasova
  • Runtime: 81 minutes
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 64%