“Knives Out:” modern twist on mystery genre

Gabe Smith, Campus Carrier staff writer

Released this past week, “Knives Out” is a whodunit-turned-thriller movie starring Daniel Craig, Toni Collette, Chris Evans and Jamie Lee Curtis, and directed by Rian Johnson. The film begins when a wealthy crime novelist dies, seemingly by suicide, on the night of his 85th birthday. The cause of death, however, is thrown into question by the arrival of an unknown private investigator, who, along with the police, begins questioning the novelist’s family in search of more information. 

The movie is set in a traditional, spacious, and isolated mansion on the novelist’s estate, helping create an atmosphere of mystery and suspicion. The juxtaposition of the mansion with various pop-culture references reminds viewers of the film’s modern-day setting and helps to keep the story relevant and engaging. And while the film is centered around the question of who killed the novelist, its subplots make important points about current cultural phenomena. 

Viewers will gain an inside look into the dysfunctional and dishonest family life of the ultra-rich and see an illustration of the struggles faced by immigrants in America today. Marta, the deceased novelist’s personal nurse whose mother is undocumented, finds herself pulled into the backstabbing and deceitful politics of his family as they struggle to secure his estate for themselves. She watches as the family she served turns its back on her and witnesses people who once considered her a friend threaten to expose her mother’s lack of immigration status for financial gain. 

These political and cultural subplots only make the film’s central plotline more compelling. As the movie progresses, plot twists keep coming. As the film nears its ending, it even begins to feel more like a thriller than a whodunit, a refreshing adjustment for a film (and genre) that can sometimes rely too heavily on template-like plots and characters. “Knives Out” avoids this trope by moving beyond the mansion and the death into the outside world and the personal lives of characters, particularly Marta. 

With “Knives Out,” Johnson has redefined and expanded what a whodunit film can be. The movie’s characters are timely and relevant, and Johnson successfully adapts the traditional murder-mystery plot style to a film that explores much more than simply who killed whom. With a running time of two hours and ten minutes, the film is slightly long, but not detrimentally so – it takes time to fully develop a complex story, and the movie never feels boring or slow. I highly recommend it to viewers, especially those who appreciate mysteries and plot twists. 

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