"Knives Out" is a hilarious take on the classic whodunit genre of days old, as the film takes a fascinating approach to its murder mystery. The follow-up film from "The Last Jedi" director Rian Johnson, the film moves at a fluid pace, as it unravels the mystery for the characters and audiences. Alongside a large cast of considerable talent, the film is one that will keep audiences guessing, and manages to avoid the pitfall of predictability.
After a family gathering for esteemed writer Harlan Thrombey’s (Christopher Plummer) 85th birthday, Harlan is mysteriously found dead the next morning from what appears to be a suicide. Already at peace with his death, tensions soon rise in the Thrombey family after a private detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), is hired to solve the case under the suspicion of foul play. With each family member holding their own agenda or grudge with Harlan, Blanc considers everyone a suspect as he slowly unravels the truth of Harlan’s death.
By immediately establishing the set up for the mystery, Johnson wastes no time delving into the investigation, as the opening of the film is a rapid character introduction to flesh out each of the family members. Each character is given a clear and distinct personality, as everyone in the ensemble cast fully delves into their role, allowing that quality to drive their motivations. The film quickly establishes there is something odd about this family, as they roam around Harlan’s ominous house. However, the audience is never able to explain what is off about them as a whole. Each member of the cast each has their opportunity to stand out. However, the real standout of the film is Chris Evans, who is allowed to embody a completely different role from the “boy scout” personality of his other characters. Johnson never ignores any member of the family, playing into the idea that anyone of them could have committed the crime.
“Knives Out”'s biggest strength comes in how it avoids classic tropes of other whodunits and continually keeps the audience informed of what is going on. The film makes heavy use of the phrase “show don’t tell”, as numerous flashbacks are long and detailed, making sure that the audience knows everything about the character before the film returns to the present. It’s easy to believe that the film may suffer from giving the audience too much exposition. However, it works flawlessly at keeping the audience invested throughout the entire movie. By giving the audience so much information from the start, they will continuously keep questioning who is guilty, feeling that they have missed something that Johnson told them.
All of this works to create an incredibly satisfying murder mystery, which avoids being easily predictable. The film manages to maintain a constant feeling of suspense throughout the entire investigation, as it keeps the viewers guessing not only who the murderer is, but also how the whole situation will be resolved. Every action or piece of evidence comes across as logical, in part thanks to the audience understanding the motives of each character, and why they are doing specific activities. This movie is a mystery that doesn’t waste time unraveling its large plot, as it allows audiences to feel they are a part of it, knowing everything the characters on screen know.
"Knives Out" wouldn’t work if it didn’t have an appealing mystery alongside a compelling list of suspects. Luckily, the film manages to excel at giving both, as audiences quickly become connected to these characters, as much as they are connected with the mystery. The tremendous work from the ensemble cast proves to have genuinely funny moments, as the audience understands these characters are not trying to be funny, instead it’s just a result of their distinct personality. All of this results in a whodunit that keeps the audience guessing until the last frame but never secludes them from participating in the investigation.