Movie Review: How Knives Out is a ‘Cutting-Edge’ Homage to the Long Dead Genre of Murder Mystery Thriller


Abby Schreiber

Director Rian Johnson’s newest film, Knives Out, is an homage to classic murder mystery films.

It’s not often that you get to watch a murder mystery film in theaters, especially in the age of live-action remakes and the superhero ‘flavor-of-the-week’. However, in director Rian Johnson’s newest film, Knives Out, the murder mystery genre is returned to in an impressive homage to classic whodunnits, such as Murder on the Orient Express and Clue, with an unpredictable plot which always kept me on the edge of my seat.

The film follows Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), the nurse of an eccentric murder mystery writer named Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). After Thrombey appears dead on the day after his 85th birthday, a detective named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is anonymously hired to investigate the nature of his death. Featuring an assortment of well-known actors who make up Thrombey’s family: Toni Collette, Chris Evans and Jamie Lee Curtis to name a few, all of the performances in the film were intentionally campy and, in my opinion, helped pay tribute to other movies of the genre. Even actors I had seen in many other films, such as Chris Evans and Toni Collette, were able to completely transform themselves into their characters and break from the traditional roles I’ve seen them play. Without ruining the twist at the end of the film, the ‘villain’ behind the murder was one of the most impressive performances to me, as it completely caught me off guard and was a great example of how to write a twist well. 

Knives Out is also a movie, alongside the likes of Hereditary or Parasite, where the set is almost a character itself. As Harlan Thrombey’s house is one of the only sets in the film, the amount of effort which went into the set design for it did not go unnoticed for me. In my opinion, the winding passages and numerous secret entrances throughout it were very well done. Personally, I would have liked to see more experimental cinematography done throughout the film, especially since so many great sets were at the film’s disposal, but the extreme complexity of the backgrounds and sets more than made up for the lack of interesting camerawork. 

It’s difficult to talk about Knives Out without mentioning Rian Johnson’s previous directorial venture: his controversial entry into the most recent Star Wars trilogy, The Last Jedi. While The Last Jedi was panned by some audiences for its ‘subversion of expectation’, Johnson’s twists throughout Knives Out are much more welcomed, at least in my opinion, as they better fit the genre of murder mystery and were consistently one step ahead of the viewer. While I haven’t seen any of Johnson’s other work, his use of twists throughout Knives Out held my interest for its full runtime, and I’d be curious to see him tackle other ‘mystery’ films, even if they are less direct ‘homages to the genre’ than this one.

One of my only gripes with the movie was that it felt a little bit rushed towards the end. As with most other murder mystery films, there is a retelling of events from the perspective of the murderer, and as the plot of this movie is extremely complex, it felt like the film was trying to cram too much information into a single scene. I understand ‘playing up the tropes of a genre’, which Knives Out does in other parts to great success, but I would have liked to see the characters solve the mystery in more than one rushed scene. 

Regardless of your opinions over The Last Jedi, I’d recommend Knives Out as a film for those who love classic over-the-top whodunnits, and anyone interested in set design. It isn’t everyday you get to see so much thought and inspiration put into a film, and it’s a great movie to see with the whole family…provided yours is a bit more functional than the Thrombey’s.