Elfie Hopkins (2012), the debut feature from British director Ryan Andrews, provides a modern spin on the murder mystery narrative, complete with a teenager-baiting comic book aesthetic and a solid British cast, including Jaime Winstone and her father Ray Winstone.
Buried deep within the rolling hills of a Welsh valley resides young Elfie Hopkins (Jaime Winstone), a teenage detecting prodigy trapped within the confines of the picturesque cottages and the mundane, middle-class class families that populate the area – that is, until the Gammons move into the neighbourhood. After the Gammons’ arrival, a series of mysterious disappearances occur and Elfie, stoner super-sleuth-in-the-making, begins to realise that all is not right in her quiet little village.
Elfie Hopkins borrows heavily from numerous sources, with clear nods towards everything from Miss Marple to Hetty Wainthropp Investigates. In addition to drawing on the conventions of the murder mystery genre, the plot is also peppered with elements of light horror, thrown in to spice up the action. This partnership often feels a little clumsy, but the film’s narrative is ultimately saved from mediocrity by some intriguing lighting and camera work. Credit should be given to production designer Tim Dickel, who has created by far the most enjoyable aspects of Andrews’ film.
The young British cast do a decent, if largely unremarkable job of balancing The League of Gentleman-style surreal horror-comedy with mystery, only occasionally missing the mark. Jaime Winstone handles her central role well – despite playing younger than her years – conveying a strangely irritating quality so typical of teenagers with a passion.
Unfortunately, despite its lofty aims and admirable intent, Elfie Hopkins just manages to miss its mark. The horror is rarely scary – even at the most basic of levels – almost certainly a consequence of Andrews’ decision to cross too many genre boundaries. If the young director had perhaps stuck to the murder mystery element, his debut film may have proved all the more enjoyable.