If you’ve ever wondered what a murder mystery would feel like without the excitement of the unknown, “Brazen” might provide the answer. Released on January 13, 2022, this new Netflix thriller directed by Monika Mitchell revolves around the murder of Kathleen (Emilie Ullerup), a beloved high school English teacher who leads a double life as a famous dominatrix on a webcam site called Fantasy Inc. The movie follows the perspective of Kathleen’s sister, Grace (Alyssa Milano), who, with her novelist experience and imagination, decides to contribute to the police investigation of her sister’s case. In the midst of it all, Grace also begins a romance with Detective Ed Jennings (Sam Page) as they join forces to track down the culprit. Caution: spoilers for the movie ahead.
Though this premise may seem captivating at first glance, the screenplay failed to develop a story with complexity and depth. For a murder mystery whose entire plot depends on the thrill of “the chase,” the identity of the murderer was too obvious throughout the movie. At Kathleen’s funeral, one of her students, Jerald (Matthew Finlan), lingered and stayed with the coffin once everyone headed outside. After Grace approached the student, they talked for a while, and he accidentally referred to his dead teacher by her first name. The way that this crucial and alarming detail was brushed aside for the rest of their conversation and seemed to slip Grace’s mind afterwards showed how much the movie tried to downplay the information, which, in turn, made audiences positive that Jerald was the killer. With this in mind, the rest of the goose chase became disappointing and frustrating, since the bait that was supposed to intrigue the audience throughout the movie had failed to leave the viewers guessing and wanting more.
In addition to the plot’s coarse development, the characters also feel flat and inconsistent. The most challenging part of writing any movie is creating characters with depth beyond the limited runtime of the film; for “Brazen,” this was an obstacle too high to overcome. It is evident that the writers sought to add dimension to Grace’s character, but her portrayal, blemished by numerous inconsistencies, falls short of being nuanced. From many decisions that she makes throughout the story, Grace is presented as a rational and thoughtful person who is a few steps ahead of the game. However, in her pursuit for the killer, she begins streaming while dressed up as a dominatrix, a decision that seemed too audacious and out of character especially considering the police had withdrawn their protection of her at that time. Thus, without a single well-rounded character to depend on, the movie quickly dissipates into a series of incohesive events surrounding a cast of “strangers” that the audience can’t connect with or even understand.
To make matters worse, the feminist theme that this movie so intently tries to convey comes across as yet another knight-in-shining-armor-saves-the-day fairytale cliché. Initially, Grace comes across as an empowering novelist who exposes the injustice of the patriarchal society through her novels. However, the unnecessary romance that the writers forced into the story reduced her character to a “damsel-in-distress” who needed Detective Jenning’s guidance and protection every step along the way. The final showdown scene between Grace and her sister’s murderer is the epitome of the movie’s problematic misogyny: Grace, dressed in a revealing corset, tries to escape her attacker, is too weak to resist and needs saving. Her tight corset and high heels prevent her from moving freely, which leads to the killer seizing her neck. Then, in the fashion of a fairytale, Detective Jennings appears right on cue, heroically shoots the attacker, and secures his and Grace’s happily ever after.
Overall, I would give Brazen a rating of one out of five stars. From beginning to end, Brazen lacked the elements of a successful thriller, and in many ways, it was a bud that had potential but never bloomed. Within the limited time frame of a movie, the production failed to utilize every second to the fullest, wasting runtime developing unnecessary romance instead of incorporating suspenseful details. Though the double-life-as-teacher-and-dominatrix idea was intriguing, the movie was too insubstantial, and probably would’ve been more captivating if its plotline were explored in depth in a T.V. series.