May 5, 2015

Review: The Oxford Murders (2008)

Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia is mostly known for his dark comedies. La comunidad is the only movie of his that I've seen in the past and I actually remember liking it. The Oxford Murders is a bit of a change of pace for him though since it's a straight mystery/crime film without a hint of black comedy anywhere. As a UK production, it's also Iglesia's first production outside of Spain. Sadly, it only got a theatrical release in the US two years after it had premiered in the UK. That was even after VOD rollout, so clearly there wasn't much interest in the film from distributors.

On the surface, The Oxford Murders looks semi-interesting. Most of that is due to the presence of Elijah Wood and John Hurt though. The fact that this film was pretty much ignored by distributors is still pretty worrisome and the limited critical reception that I've seen has been pretty harsh too. Who knows though, Iglesia just might find a way to make this mix of Oxford, logical series, mathematics and murders into a thrilling whodunit. Maybe.


At a Glance

Genre: crime, mystery, thriller
Directed by: Álex de la Iglesia
Produced by: Álvaro Augustín, Vérane Frédiani, Gerardo Herrero, etc.
Written by: Álex de la Iglesia, Jorge Guerricaechevarría
Music by: Roque Baños
Running time: 108 minutes
Production company: La Fabrique de Films, Oxford Crimes, Telecinco Cinema, etc.
Distributed by: Odeon Sky Filmworks, Magnolia Pictures, La Fabrique de Films, etc.
Country: United Kingdom, Spain, France
Language: English
Budget: $14,100,000
Box office: $4,803 (North America)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Elijah Wood, John Hurt, Leonor Watling, Julie Cox, Jim Carter, Alex Cox, Burn Gorman, Dominique Pinon, Anna Massey, Danny Sapani, Alan David, Tim Wallers, James Weber Brown, Ian East, Charlotte Asprey



Martin (Elijah Wood) arrives in Oxford with a thesis paper to write and a goal of getting his idol Professor Arthur Seldom (John Hurt) as his thesis supervisor. Martin attends a lecture given by Professor Seldom and in order to get his attention, he argues against Seldom's statement of there being no "absolute truth." Seldom mocks him, prompting Martin to duck out of class and abandon his studies in shame. Before he's able to leave however, Martin's landlady Mrs. Eagleton (Anna Massey) is found dead in an apparent murder. More murders are a distinct possibility, leaving Martin as a possible suspect.


There are a lot of things that rubbed me the wrong way in The Oxford Murders. Lots of little things, but also some pretty big things too. I might as well get the biggest criticism I have out of the way though. That would be the fact that The Oxford Murders is simply unbearably boring. From start to finish, there was nothing that roused me out of my couch. Even when all the answers were mind-numbingly spelled out for me at the end, I just didn't care. For a mystery film, it's just really disappointing that TOM has about as much of a pulse as the victims in the story.

Another really big issue here is the dialogue. The Oxford Murders was written by Álex de la Iglesia and Jorge Guerricaechevarría and I'm going to assume that English is not their first language. It's a shame that no one made the decision to have the dialogue combed over because it ends up feeling quite unnatural. John Hurt manages to come out mostly unscathed, but Elijah Wood seems to struggle the most. Can't help but also wonder who was responsible for the awful dub job of Burn Gorman too. I mean you'd honestly think that it was someone who only worked on American dubs of Asian martial arts films of the 70's before doing this.

The Oxford Murders also features one of the worst on-screen pairings I've seen in some time. I came to the conclusion that Elijah Wood and Leonor Watling don't work even for a second pretty quickly. Their kissing feels completely off and their sex scenes are as unnecessary as they are awkward. It also doesn't help that Wood looks like a boy while Watling is quite clearly a woman. Did Watling have to be showcased as much as she was anyway? She's attractive sure, but the whole thing reeks of desperation. 

There's is however an interesting segment when Álex de la Iglesia does an uninterrupted long take through the area around the University of Oxford that lasts a little over two minutes. It definitely looks impressive and I will say that overall, Iglesia and cinematographer Kiko de la Rica give The Oxford Murders some decent enough visuals. It's still not enough to cover up for the fact that this is a meandering and sleepy film. I'll admit that I get easily swayed by eye candy, but the few nice shots here and there don't change the general dreariness of this film in the least.

There's really not much else I can say. The Oxford Murders is just a real snoozefest which is a crime for a film that considers itself a thriller. It's no wonder that it didn't get much of a theatrical release in the US after being left to twist in the wind for two years. While it's possible to create interesting thrillers involving mathematics if Pi is any indication, Álex de la Iglesia seems incapable of drumming up any kind suspense here. The Oxford Murders probably shouldn't even be mentioned in the same breath as Pi. TOM just happened to remind me of Pi a few times. 

My advice? Don't watch The Oxford Murders. There are way better mystery/thrillers out there. If you do happen to watch it and fall asleep, I really wouldn't worry. What really happened in the story is revealed at the end so you honestly won't be missing much if you only see the beginning and the last ten minutes. Come to think of it, that's probably the best way of watching it really.



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