Saturday, December 14, 2019

Chronicle Mysteries: The Deep End Review

Chronicle Mysteries: The Deep End Review (Special Review)

Warning: The following review may/will contain spoilers for the fourth installment of the Chronicle Mysteries series. If you wish to stay clear of what happens in the movie's story, please exit the tab and join me once you've watched it. Or, you know, you can take that warning with a grain of salt and still read on anyway. Whatever floats your boat.

Anyways, with that said, thank you, and onto the review:

It's time, you guys. It's time for me to review another Hallmark movie in the absence of anything anime-related until I watch or re-watch something I want to write about. Who's excited?



*more crickets*

Too bad. It wouldn't be fair to brush this movie under the rug without me recognizing the impact Hallmark movies have had on me since I've started my second year of college. I did watch plenty of them over the summer, but since returning to my college's campus and relishing in the aspects I didn't miss (people complaining about the school food, some long nights), I've already cleared the number of films I saw back home (thirteen) and have shot past that once I dove headfirst into the new Christmas movies airing on both the Hallmark Channel and Movies & Mysteries.

Guys, imagine. Me, with a plethora of Hallmark Christmas movies at my disposal on DVD and TV. Think about the recipe for disaster that's going to bring.

Anyways, I was looking forward to watch this movie since I found out they were filming for it on Alison Sweeney's Instagram page. Due to program reshuffling caused by the college admissions scandal, Crown Media halted production on three of the Garage Sale mystery series' movies, which were going to air back-to-back in August. This helped a couple franchises get some room in the schedule before the holiday season started up, and this was a part of that. I wasn't sure we were getting another movie this year, but since the first three movies did well enough for the network, I was ecstatic to get more content from the series I wasn't expecting to like as much as I did.

Part of the benefits to being a new Hallmark movie fan is getting access to a website where Crown Media, the corporation behind the cards and the movies, posts all of their press information when movies are a month or a few weeks out from airing. Here, you can find short summaries, cast information, and read up on the two leading actors since most viewers are probably there for them anyway. The press information for this film was posted a week before I went on a family vacation to Montana, but I didn't find it until after I came back. When I did, I hit the jackpot.

This movie looked promising. The Harrington Chronicle team currently following an ongoing trial with nothing but coincidental evidence in the defendant's name? Alex McPherson knowing Stephanie (played by the lovely Tegan Moss) didn't kill her husband, but only having a couple days to find concrete evidence and clearing her name? Count me in. When the trailer came out, I was officially on board. Though I'm not the type of person who likes to fixate on how many days are left for the summer before school starts again, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

So on the night of August 25th, kettle corn freshly popped and topped with delicious caramel M&M's, I watched this movie with Luke and a friend of mine from my CAP group last year, who also has a soft spot for made-for-TV movies my acting professor called "the adult version of Disney Channel." Did it deliver on my expectations? Or did it crash and burn because I was hoping for too much?

Of course it didn't crash and burn. This series is continuing to get stronger with each subsequent movie. Melissa Salmons made the day and time format work incredibly well, we got to see new hints of subplots and more of the characters we've come to know and like (although there was no Chuck, which I'm still sad about), the romantic tension between Alex and Drew came to a boil (although there was no kiss, which I'm still sad about), plus the mystery had a great pace and led to plenty of great reveals. After the last three mysteries, this one had a nice change of pace, and I'm curious to see where the series will go from here if more movies are produced.

Like last time, I took detailed notes on the movie and watched it a couple of times to make sure I understood what was going on. Making sure I was attuned to every detail helped me, even when I heard people getting...busy next door on my first re-watch (I even heard it through my earbuds, *sighs*).

What kind of mystery is the Harrington Chronicle and Recovered Podcast dealing with here? Let's find out.

Stephanie Burke is currently on trial, charged with the murder of her ex-husband, Elliot Burke. Alex hears about the case because her friend, Katie Wyer, is serving as Burke's attorney. Elliot was found face down in the deep end of the lake behind their property, and the circumstantial evidence could be enough to put Stephanie behind bars. The trial is already past the first week, and after getting a chance to talk with Stephanie, Alex wonders if there's more to this case than meets the eye. After Elliot's father died, he became distant and went on a lot of trips his ex-wife didn't know about. He was also in contact with a mysterious woman named Claire, and her relationship with Elliot is a big question mark.

After talking with Leonard Newcome's agoraphobic wife, Heidi, during a court lunch recess, she supplies Alex with new information that only makes Stephanie look guiltier. After leaving at 6:30 PM with her kids following an argument with her ex-husband, she came back to the house four hours later before quickly taking off. After the new evidence is presented and Alex sits on her feelings towards the case for a day, she decides to start back at the beginning in order to prove Stephanie's innocence. Drew Godfrey, her co-worker who could become something more, offers to help since the next issue of the Harrington Chronicle is almost done. His daughter, Kendall, who is interning for the paper, and their fellow co-worker, Eileen Bruce, who runs the gossip column, also ask to assist. Once Alex gets the files Katie has about the case on hand, their work begins. Will they be able to put the puzzle pieces together in four days in order to prove Stephanie's innocence?

How this movie was formatted was drastically different compared to the last three. Hallmark mystery movies have always had a set formula, but since the case is on a time crunch, there's only so much information the Harrington Chronicle can dig up before Stephanie's trial comes to an end. The editors establish the day and time nine minutes into the movie and frequently update it whenever we focus on different members of the quartet. This drew me in almost immediately and kept the movie from dragging, which was my biggest problem with the first one. New information is found pretty frequently, and I loved seeing the Chronicle work together with the facts they find on Elliot.

Unlike The Wrong Man and Vines That Bind, the evidence bounces back to one thing: Elliot hiding another source where he gained money. His kids have huge trust funds, a recurring charge was made in his bank account every four weeks to a shipping company named Around the World, and a torn page from a ledger was spotted in a police video. He also owned his own plane and a flip phone, used to make sudden trips and contact associates from a high-stake poker game he ran on the side, otherwise known as The Game. This made me less distracted as the mystery moved forward, especially once Alex and Drew decide to attend one of the games in order to "follow up" on a catering charge Elliot made note of. You get to see what it's like first-hand, which helps the viewer visualize how it operated when Elliot was alive.

I also really enjoyed seeing everyone on the paper work together once again to solve a case. Although there is no Chuck (despite a brief nod to him), there is enough fun commentary between the four, and we get to see more of Eileen and Kendall in their element. Salmons touches upon the possibility of Elliot's death being an accident (which is ruled out a couple of times) and does a great job working with the suspects' motives until I became confident enough to guess whodunit. Plot twist: it wasn't actually Stephanie.

The culprit is none other than Jeremy Powers, Elliot's childhood friend. At first, you don't think much of him since Leonard and Max Korey, a caddy at the country club Elliot, his mother, and Jeremy played golf at, have stronger motives at the start. It's once Drew mentions Jeremy "pops up" wherever they go that the pieces began to fall into place for me. He always seems to be there, floating in the background, never quite on the front of everyone's minds until the right time. The break in the case comes from Elliot's mother named Deborah, who at one point, I felt was responsible. Some writers for the Movies & Mysteries channel sometimes have a habit of making a murder culprit one who appears the least, and Deborah only shows up for about five minutes tops. However, I ruled that out once she and Alex talked for the second time at her house, where she's looking after her son and Stephanie's kids. She had too much love for her son to kill him (especially since she didn't teach him how to swim out of fear he would drown due to a past incident), plus she didn't know The Game existed, so why would she do it?

She doesn't initially recognize the code names on Elliot's ledger page, but one nags at her until she digs up her address book that she uses for her handwritten Christmas cards. The business name Sparwood Inc. rung a bell because it was none other than Jeremy's childhood address. During a fun chase scene, Jeremy reveals he didn't intend to kill Elliot when he went over on the night of April 12th. He just wanted another loan to continue playing in The Game despite the amount of debt he gained from doing it. Elliot didn't want to encourage his friend's gambling addiction, so him turning Jeremy down made the latter snap. Jeremy also rented the car that almost killed Alex and Drew after they got into The Game and used it to pick up Claire to take her back to the airport so she could return to Detroit for the time being.

I'm happy Salmons didn't make Jeremy look too guilty and gave us two good red herrings in Max Korey and Leonard Newcome. They each have legitimate motives for killing Elliot; for Leonard, it doesn't just involve the game. He filed civil complaints against Elliot for shooting golf balls into his yard, feeling threatened for his life. At times, he is also imposing toward the Chronicle, especially after he finds out Alex interviewed his wife. Claire is also a suspect at a point in the movie, due to her status in The Game (she's a "fish," which is someone who likes playing something yet is bad at it) but I felt she was too elusive to actually be capable of murder, which was true.

Salmons also touched upon a few new subplots to the characters she helped create. We see more depth to them than what's been shown in the past three movies. Alex is now considering staying in Harrington as we get to see her house for the first time, her stuff out of storage. However, it's still unclear if she will accept her uncle's offer to take over the Harrington Chronicle, which he has been subtly (or not) asking her to do as the movies have continued. Salmons brings up Alex's mother again thanks to a picture of the two of them in her house. Alex was working on transmitting analog tapes of her mother's vacations into a digital format before she passed away. Seeing the picture also gives her the courage to talk to Elliot's mother one more time, which helps with the break in the case.

For Drew, we find out he traveled when he started to work as a reporter but stopped when Kendall was born in order to give her more stability in her life. We also get to see more tangible chemistry between the two of them after it got teased for the third movie. Unfortunately, their almost kiss gets thwarted when Herst, Miles' dog, barks, but this is a hint for more to come. Maybe they'll kiss in the fifth movie, if we end up getting one.

A subplot I wasn't expecting, though, was Alex asking Drew if he was interested in co-hosting Recovered with her. She believes he has a good voice, and podcasts with two hosts have done pretty well. Drew isn't sure at first, but he tells Alex he'll think about it at the end of the movie when she asks him again. This could make the series go in an interesting direction, especially if what Drew's investigating in a future case could tie to what Alex is investigating. Think of the parallels! The latter has also seemed content with doing the podcast on her own, but since she and Drew are getting closer, maybe it's time to open the door and work with someone else. After all, what did Frozen teach us?

Eileen is still as entertaining as ever, not afraid to be an older sister/motherly figure to Alex and get information just by being herself. She also encourages Drew to make a move on Alex because she knows he's into her. We love Eileen. Salmons gives Kendall a subplot as Drew questions if she's seeing anyone from school. He sneaks a peak at her phone when a text from someone named Cooper comes in, asking Kendall if she's still free on Saturday night, and he brings it up with Alex when they eventually get the keys to look inside the Burke property and poke around. Eventually, Kendall reveals to her dad that the event she missed was a party, and not much happened outside of a fight two of her friends had. Cooper is someone she met at college from an independent study of fractals, but she isn't seeing him at the moment. Instead, he's dating another one of her friends named Madison.

What I liked about this subplot is that we got to see a slight peak into Kendall's life in college. It gives her more depth outside of helping her dad out with cases whenever she's free. Salmons and Kraig Wenman, the co-writer of Vines That Bind, did hint at some of her interests, but this movie gives her actress, Olivia Steele Falconer, the most material she's worked with so far. Is this subplot the most relevant? No, but it does show how Drew cares for his daughter and wants to make sure she's safe as she gets older.

The direction for this movie was honestly fantastic. Nimisha Mukerji got involved in the series thanks to Alison Sweeney (did I mention in my last review she's one of the executive producers and developers? If not, I did just now), and I'm so happy she did. Her work for The Deep End is not only my favorite out of the Chronicle Mystery movies, but also my favorite out of the Hallmark movies I've seen thus far. There are a lot of great shots where her team played with angles when the Harrington Chronicle went over the case for the first time or when Alex and Drew visit the airport after finding Elliot's pilot license. I love how the light looks when the two go to the Burke's property for the first time and when they leave the airport, sun bright in the sky (with some potential editing in post) and it breaking from the clouds. The scenery looks so vibrant, and even though some of the editing hindered a couple shots (the chase scene with some of its purposely sped-up shots come to mind), I'm curious to see if Mukerji will return to direct a second movie. We haven't had a returning director yet.

I don't normally talk about fashion when it comes to the things I watch (except Bleach's official art, which is just DRIPPING in it), but there were a lot of great outfits in this movie. Florence Barrett (credited as Flo Barrett), you deserve props. Alison Sweeney wore a TON of pieces that caught my eye. In fact, three of them are in the GIFs in this review. I also enjoyed Alex's outfit for the Thursday scenes and the final scene, Heidi's outfit, when she's interviewed by Alex, is complimented with a purple shawl and blank pants, Eileen and Kendall wear great outfits that fit their personalities in the Sunday scenes, and everyone who was at The Game, all dressed up. I didn't have a lot of notes on the costuming for the last two movies, so this one more than made up for it.

I got a good amount of great acting and a good amount of meh acting from this movie. The actors who already have established roles continue to do well (despite the absence of both Dave Collette and Michael Kopsa), and some of the new actors perform well. Tegan Moss did a great job tapping into Stephanie's anxiety, and her emotions were believable. Nothing was over-acted from her. Megan Leitch, despite only talking in one scene, portrayed Heidi respectfully, and I liked the subtle difference between her being excited about getting to meet Alex and being troubled over the secret she kept. Outside of those two, everyone was fine. I do wish Sean Campbell (who played Leonard Newcome) didn't deliver his lines for a scene as wooden as he did, but in the end, that may be asking too much.

Random fun facts: Sean Campbell voiced Kevin Green in the English dub of an anime called Infinite Ryvius, a one-off role in Powerpuff Girls Z, and was Chunk in an animated movie for the Zhu Zhu Pet toys. I'm not joking. Megan Leitch voiced Sakura Kuriyagawa in the series Key: The Metal Idol, in the mid 1990's. There isn't much else in terms of voice-over, but there is plenty of crossover from other Hallmark movies. Chenier Hundal, who played Jeremy Powers, was in five episodes of Arrow. I also found out Karen Holness (who plays Katie) was in the Twitches franchise as Camryn's adoptive mother. That threw me for a loop.

Overall, I'm happy with what I got here. Having a time limit for the case was very effective in creating tension, I'm happy Salmons touched upon plot points she previously established yet also teased new ones, we got to hear more about Drew and Kendall, and the evidence led to a very satisfying culprit. The Deep End gets a 9.5/10 because there were some minor quibbles. They had nothing to do with the plot, though. My average rating for the series is now at an 8.5/10.

That marks the end of this review! Join me next time as we get back into the swing of anime shenanigans.

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