It’s true that you can’t touch a classic and what’s more classic, for the fall, than a good ole fashioned family murder mystery? KNIVES OUT delivers on everything you crave and expect from a murder mystery, without following the all-too familiar beats. At the risk of sounding cheesy: KNIVES OUT kills it.  

KNIVES OUT is written and directed by Rian Johnson (The Last Jedi) and boasts a star-studded cast including Toni Collette (Hereditary), Ana de Armas, Chris Evans (Captain America: The First Avenger), Daniel Craig (Skyfall), Katherine Langford (13 Reasons Why), Jamie Lee Curtis (who enjoyed a warm reception at Fantastic Fest 2018 for her film, Halloween), Jaeden Martell (IT), Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water), LaKeith Stanfield (Sorry to Bother You), and Christopher Plummer. And we left some folks out! 

When the patriarch of a publishing empire mysteriously dies in the night, the investigation is afoot to find the truth within the web of deceit created by the deceased’s eccentric and combative family. Everyone’s a suspect… and maybe even a threat. KNIVES OUT closed the 2019 Fantastic Fest film festival in Austin, TX to much fanfare and packed screenings full of the country’s biggest genre film fans. 

What a deliciously devious little film. 

KNIVES OUT charms from the outset and mystery and intrigue oozes out of every pore. The costuming is beautiful and reminds one of such films as Clue, for its on the nose summary of the characters. The setting of the family home is equal parts spooky manor and playhouse. One could easily watch the film a hundred times over, just to catch the small details. From the foundation to the final touches, the film is made for fun and mystery. It’s damn well done. 

Of course, the key component of a good mystery is the mystery itself. Johnson has hit the vein and draws out a dramatic and arresting tale that rewrites itself with every scene. Instead of following a trail to a predictable outcome, every new piece of information or secret revealed sends us back to the beginning. Nothing is as it seems and it’s perfect. In this way, the story is allowed to breathe and be flexible which is refreshing in such an old genre. 

Rian Johnson’s piece is dripping with nods to Clue, Hitchcock, and the works of Agatha Christie. In his Fantastic Fest Q&A, Rian Johnson admits an early love of “choose your own adventure” books and that influence is very clear in this work. KNIVES OUT is the love child of every mystery you have ever loved, with a fresh perspective and contemporary daring. 

KNIVES OUT has good bones, but it’s the cast that molds it into art. It’s quite the ensemble and there is not a weak note in the entire company, but particular accolade goes to Jamie Lee Curtis (playing Linda Drysdale) and Daniel Craig as the Kentucky fried detective, Benoit Blanc. 

On its face, KNIVES OUT is a film about murder, mayhem, and petty squabbles. The family has a wicked spirit and that’s clearly essential to pulling off those high stakes. However, it is the small, human moments that sell the entire production. For all the venom and vinegar, this is a film about a family. Linda Drysdale is played equal parts vicious and calculating, with a tenderness and true feelings of loss. Jamie Lee Curtis is saddled with the task of grounding the entire film in a nuanced and emotional place and she does much more than rise to the occasion. She knocks the role out of the park. Always a joy and it’s definitely a new favorite of her performances. 

As far as Daniel Craig goes, the man is at a career high as the central detective Benoit Blanc. What Rian Johnson has done here is recreate the likes of Hercule Poirot for a new generation. From the heavy Southern accent, to the sharp wit and smooth delivery, Benoit Blanc is the type of hero and detective that is so damn watchable. When complimented on the creation of the character, during his Q&A, Rian Johnson was hopeful that he could take the character in the direction of Hercule Poirot and make Blanc a focal point of future mysteries. 

Sign us up!

I hesitate to use the term “instant classic” but what I will say is that KNIVES OUT has struck a very particular sweet spot. As I mentioned at the outset, the film is dripped in the trappings of classic murder mysteries and it wears the look well. This story is timeless and can easily take a place among the other greats in the genre.

That being said, elements of the film are incredibly timely. Discussion of political discord, class struggle, and mentions of immigration concerns all keep KNIVES OUT refreshingly modern and capable of speaking to a totally fresh audience that may not be familiar with Hitchcock and Christie. Not to mention it is incredibly effective in both drama and comedy. 

Bottom line: it’s damn enjoyable. KNIVES OUT is sure to be a fresh new favorite but with real staying power. It doesn’t take a detective to find that this murder mystery is to die for. Be sure to catch it when it hits theaters on November 27.

Daniel Craig, Noah Segan, and LaKeith Stanfield in KNIVES OUT | Photo by Claire Folger
Caitlin Kennedy
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