On a stormy night recently, I revisited Clue (1985), an essential dark comedy and murder mystery based on the popular board game of the same name. After 34 years, that film not only remains hilarious (Flames! On the side of my face!), but it also feels socially relevant in ways you might not expect. I think we will be saying the same things about Knives Out, a new whodunnit from writer/director Rian Johnson (Looper), for the decades to come.
Knives Out celebrated its World Premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival Saturday, September 7 with the hotly contested, but also beloved Johnson receiving a standing ovation from the excited crowd at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre. While the trailers released thus far advertise the film’s more obvious attractions, including its all-star cast and some cutting one-liners, the film is bigger and bolder than you can even imagine. It is a true instant classic, a film that people will not only be quoting come its wide release in November, but also analyzing at great length.
“…bigger and bolder than you can even imagine […] a true instant classic”
The premise is simple. Acclaimed murder mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead in his study and a team of detectives that include LaKeith Stanfield, Noah Segan, and a scenery-devouring Daniel Craig as private eye Benoit Blanc, are tasked with figuring out which one of his family members is responsible. The Thrombey clan is filled with familiar faces including Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween), Chris Evans (The Avengers: Endgame and, you know, the entire the Marvel Cinematic Universe), Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water), Toni Collette (Hereditary), Don Johnson (Brawl in Cell Block 99), Katherine Langford (13 Reasons Why) and Jaeden Martell (It: Chapter 2), with Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049) and Edi Patterson (HBO’s The Righteous Gemstones) playing two of Harlan’s trusted employees.
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To say more would be to spoil the utterly outrageous fun, but unlike Toni Collette in a short and sweet scene set to Roxy Music’s “More Than This”, the film doesn’t dance anything. Johnson was obviously very purposeful in choosing this project as his follow-up to The Last Jedi, using today’s politics as a weapon to not only get laughs, but also to play with expectations and get a rise out of audience members who are going to come to the movie expecting nothing more than Murder, He Wrote. To be frank, there are recurring jokes upon recurring jokes and most of them come at the expense of the MAGA crowd. There are conversations about putting people in cages, snowflakes, Nazi youth and immigration.
It should be no surprise that Rian Johnson is using his twist on Agatha Christie by way of Alfred Hitchcock (with a pinch of Angela Lansbury!) to put a magnifying glass up to Trump’s America. He is, after all, a challenging director, the kind of man who had to fight off trolls after making a Star Wars film that privileged originality over fan service. What’s more, his first film, Brick, was also a unique play on the mystery genre that refused to talk down to its audience. And as a person, Johnson is not afraid to be opinionated and open about his beliefs.
In that way, Knives Out is going to upset certain people and really make for some awkward conversations at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. But it will delight many others, especially those who have been itching for the twisty kind of mystery yarn that weaves together classic tropes while also spinning new ones. It’s the kind of movie that Kenneth Branaugh wanted his Murder on the Orient Express (2017) to be. It’s the kind of movie that gives talented, up-and-coming actors like Armas (truly the film’s standout) a chance to go toe-to-toe with the genre royalty like Curtis. Think of Knives Out as your favourite wool sweater, a surprisingly stylish hand-me-down from some distant relative that you love dearly. Some people might find it uncomfortable, but it’s actually very warm and will likely outlive most of the other fun, but disposable items in your closet.
“Knives Out is going to upset certain people and really make for some awkward conversations at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.”
Knives Out celebrated its World Premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival Saturday, September 7. TIFF 2019 runs September 5-September 15 in Toronto, Ontario and you can find all of our reviews, interviews, and news HERE, as well as on Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!