Past Malice: An Emma Fielding Mystery (2018)

Having enjoyed the first episode of last year’s Emma Fielding Mystery, I was happy to see another commissioned, but blame it on the gloomy setting or the fact that I was sleepy after a huge lunch because I couldn’t get on board this one. Of course, it might also have been the movie itself. Whereas the first one played up the archaeological bonafides of its lead character, Past Malice is less in the weeds. But when things do get a little scholarly, the results are laughable. One guy, a private collector with a houseful of museum-worthy artifacts, actually thinks he’s got the world’s only original of the Mayflower Compact. Okay, dude.

The story has a promising start though. Emma (Courtney Thorne-Smith) agrees to help out her friend, Adele (Sitara Hewitt), who is trying to promote Chandler Castle, a serious piece of real estate that is both the ancestral home to the Chandler family and the target of a witch’s curse dating to colonial times. There have been some new discoveries that could boost the castle’s profile, but some fishy business, including plenty of missing artifacts, brings Emma and her FBI consultant friend, Jim Connor (James Tupper), to the scene. They meet self-important house manager Sherman (William MacDonald), young Chandler heir Bray (Preston Vanderslice), his assistant Perry (Kimberly Sustad), and on-site archaeologist Professor Webster (Vincent Gale). The latter proves to be quite the condescending, sexist jerk, for which he pays dearly. He is stabbed to death in the castle’s crypt, inside a sealed room with no known entrance.

This naturally freaks the hell out of everyone, some of whom are quick to blame the death on the curse. Emma knows there’s got to be a more sensible explanation though. She and Jim get to work, along with her student assistants. The latter two make an early contribution by putting their young people technological skills to good use. I liked this aspect of the story in Site Unseen; the students occasionally school the teacher and challenge her from the inside. Their skills and personalities are wasted here, however. Their only job is to draw more attention to the curse, but they don’t do anything to assist Emma or to shed light on the case.

The general lack of excitement doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a competent mystery. There are some serviceable misdirections; Adele is framed and at least one other person doesn’t make it out of the story alive. It gets into issues of fraud in the archaeology field. Emma and Jim also have some moments. The best part may have come at the end when I discovered that Thorne-Smith has a serious case of crazy eyes. I half-expected her to be the killer just by the wild way she stared down the actual killer. Now that would have been a great twist, one I think Hallmark should consider if they decide to end a franchise.

Highlight for Spoilers: Girl will do anything for love, and she will do that. It’s Perry, aka Kimberly Sustad, aka the sweet star of Hallmark romances like Bride of Christmas and Nine Lives of Christmas. Perry’s love for Bray led her to fix up a little archeological hoax in order to gin up tourism. Her plan was to save Bray from financial ruin and earn his love in the process. So when Webster, who is in on the plot, tries to extort more money, she kills him. Of course Sherman has to go too when he figures things out. She also frames Adele because jealousy is a bitch, and Bray clearly fancies Adele over Perry.

Released: 2018
Dir: Kevin Fair
Writer: Phoef Suttton
Cast: Courtney Thorne-Smith, James Tupper, Adam DiMarco, Tess Atkins, Sitara Hewitt, Kimberly Sustad, William MacDonald, Preston Vanderslice, Ben Wilkinson
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2018