Murder on the Orient Express is a lesson in how to make a trailer

Murder on the Orient Express is a movie that could very easily be ruined by its trailers.

The film, based on one of Agatha Christie’s most famous novels and starring her most iconic character, Hercule Poirot, is a murder mystery. Each character is a suspect and each has a potential motive for murdering the unidentified guest. It’s up to Poirot to conduct a series of interviews over the course of his investigation, while stuck in a train with the murderer, and figure out who it was.

Murder on the Orient Express relies on the suspense that comes from the unknown. The trailer not only respects that, but plays into the motif, making every character feel just as culpable as the last.

But after watching the trailer, there’s no real hint of what has happened — beyond the death of a passenger — how it was carried out, who else may be at risk and, naturally, who the murderer is. The trailer doesn’t reveal anything beyond what it needs to and, in doing so, has created a captivating piece of film marketing.

The entire trailer is narrated by Poirot, much like Christie’s book, but it doesn’t star the detective. For those who have devoured Christie’s mysteries, this will feel familiar. Although Poirot is at the center of every mystery, he isn’t the main character. He’s a vessel for readers into the world of whatever mystery he’s investigating. The main characters are the supporting players in whatever crime has been committed and the attention rarely moves away from those strangers.

In the trailer for Murder on the Orient Express, Poirot isn’t revealed until the very end, when one of the passengers simply asks who he is. It’s at that point that a smiling Kenneth Branagh is revealed and we learn who the narrator is and about his purpose on the train. It’s an interesting way of introducing the man that the audience will come to rely on as the main source of information, but it’s the buildup to that reveal which is truly fantastic.

As partly seen in the GIF above, Poirot slowly moves through the main corridor of the train. As he passes each passenger, their title appears beneath them and they give a one or two line hypothesis as to what has happened. This not only introduces their character, but helps the audience understand their relationship to the murder and the victim, planting the seeds for possible evidence later on. All eyes are trained on Poirot and because the camera acts as his eyes — our view into the setting — it feels strangely intimate.

Movie trailers and the spoilers within them are becoming a big issue in the industry — with everyone from the director of Terminator: Genisys to Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow speaking out about it. But this trailer is a perfect example of how to tease a story, introduce the setting and sell a movie without having to reveal, well, anything.

Murder on the Orient Express will be released on Nov. 10. Hopefully future teases will keep follow in this trailer’s footsteps.

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