Murder on the Orient Express

Too often, subtlety and nuance are the collateral damage of trailer houses seeking to instantly connect with their audiences. Character reveals, plot twists, and CGI-laden action-spectacles typify trailers of the 21st century. These trailers are usually accompanied by pop music with some vague connection to the onscreen rollout. In short, these trailers, inadvertently or otherwise, tip their hand. The new trailer for Murder on the Orient Express is invested in maintaining an air of mystery while simultaneously amping up suspense and a sense of wonder. It is a classic whodunit story based on the revered Agatha Christie’s eponymous novel. The trailer masterfully highlights the suspects, shining doubt on each without spoiling the surprise. The trailer is so subtle that you may not have even noticed Imagine Dragons’ song “Believer” lurking in the shadows.

Like a song, the trailer is counted in at the beginning as title cards flash across the screen before the rhythmic sounds of a train start to click along its tracks. The audio is tightly synched with the video as workers prepare the train for its journey. At 0:11, the train’s whistle sounds and the passengers’ doomed voyage begins. Beneath dialogue, the steady beat of “Believer” plays, disguised as train sounds. At 0:27, the music cuts out and is replaced by frenzy as a man screams, the breaks screech, and a gunshot rings.

At 0:31, the detective explains to his fellow passengers onboard, “A passenger has died. He was murdered. The murderer is on the train with us now, and every one of you is a suspect. So let us catch our killer.” Accompanying the monologue, an electric guitar picks a simple chord progression. The camera focuses on each passenger and neon captions appear onscreen, identifying each suspect, as it did in the teaser trailer. 0:47 marks the first instance of “Believer’s” recognizable vocals. However, instead of the hook from the catchy chorus or a recognizable lyric from a verse, a smooth falsetto swell from the song’s harmonies echoes in the valley on which the train is perched.

At 0:48, the guitar begins to repeat the same note over and over as the detective begins interrogating passengers. At 0:57, “Believer’s” melody begins, bowed on the violin. Finally, at 1:06, the familiar percussion from earlier in the trailer resumes, no longer disguised as sounds of the train as it is no longer in motion. From here, the chorus of the song plays out, minus the vocals, as passengers defend themselves and point the finger at each other. As the trailer reaches its climax, the music cuts out for two key lines. The first is spoken at 1:16 by a concerned woman who declares, “I’m sleeping here, where everyone can see me and I can see everyone.” Then, getting in the last word at 1:25, the gangster ironically says, “Do not trust no one. No one.” The title card lands with the downbeat as Imagine Dragons finishes its trailerized song, naked without its vocals, but no less effective.

– Andrew Sproule