There’s nothing like an old fashioned whodunit. At least, that’s what Lionsgate and filmmaker Rian Johnson have been trying to convince audiences all season long.
“It’s like a living Clue board in there,” chimes one of the detective characters at the onset of “Knives Out.” He’s not wrong. Johnson, the director and screenwriter of the film, crafted a love letter to the classic murder mysteries we grew up devouring.
Whether it’s harkening back to the classic board game, channeling nostalgic television series in the vein of “Murder She Wrote,” or paying homage to the many works of fiction icons like Agathe Christie, there’s something inherently compelling about this film and the time-honored mystery.
Movies like this are few and far between these days. Sure, you’ve got outings like 2017’s “Game Night,” an exceedingly enjoyable spoof on the genre, and of course “Murder on the Orient Express,” which adheres probably too strictly to the genre to the point of dullness.
“Knives Out” is the perfect marriage of these two tendencies: it stays true to the mechanics of a good detective story, but does so with a wink, always making sure we know it won’t fall prey to cliches.
For anyone avoiding “Frozen II” fever this holiday, this was the perfect Thanksgiving Day movie. It not only chronicles the inner workings of a psychotic (but thoroughly entertaining) family, it serves as a fun brain teaser for all ages.
Its knockout ensemble cast includes Chris Evans, (“Captain America”), Toni Collette (“Hereditary”), Jamie Lee Curtis (“Halloween”) and Katherine Langford (“13 Reasons Why”) as snotty members of a well-to-do family whose patriarch (Christopher Plummer) has mysteriously died, apparently a suicide. Daniel Craig (“James Bond”) is anonymously hired and sent to investigate the home.
The movie’s production design is rich, textured and perfectly evocative of late-autumn imagery. Its cozy visual allure is shrewdly contrast with the icy characters that populate it and the expertly paced suspense sequences along the way. The film bustles along at a sharp pace, leisurely enough to let viewers keep up and absorb the scenery, but swiftly enough to keep us entertained, and to keep us guessing.
Johnson sets up the story and central conflict well within the first fifteen minutes of the film. Smartly, a plot twist about one-third of the way into the story changes the course of the narrative and turns our expectations on their head. As we hurry along with the characters to get to the bottom of the mystery, it becomes clear that Johnson is more interested in the escapade of the journey and less so about the final reveal, which is still thoroughly satisfying in its own right.
Everyone in the cast pulls their weight and makes a great addition to the story when they can, even if some characters don’t quite get enough screen time to completely justify their presence. Evans and Collette make especially strong impressions, while Ana de Armas serves as a likeable quasi-protagonist.
Johnson has created a winning movie for mystery fans with an entertaining, light-hearted and clever tribute to a genre almost lost in time. It feels reminiscent of the vintage stories you’d find in an old mystery novel and yet thoroughly renovated for modern audiences.
It likely won’t land any major awards nominations, but what “Knives Out” accomplishes is almost even more exciting: proving that an old-fashioned, well-made and original film can remain competitive in an increasingly blockbuster-heavy marketplace. “Knives Out” has truly carved a place for itself, and rightly so.
Audiences who give this film a shot will not be disappointed, and they might find themselves surprised by the culprit holding the knife.
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Traveler Score: B+