For someone like me, there are few things more pleasing than a really well-done genre film. But genre conventions can be pretty tired, so that one thing that is more pleasing than that, is a genre crossover that really works. For me, comedy is often the most reliable genre to mashup. (I am a big fan of horror comedies, as you know.) Well, Knives Out is a fantastic mystery comedy, that works both as an extremely well-plotted mystery and as a comedy. It reminds me a little bit of The Last of Sheila, not so much in the plot but in that both the mystery and comedy aspects are given equal weight.
I have done my best to avoid SPOILERS in the first couple of paragraphs.
First, this is a very well-plotted mystery. You know about Chekhov’s gun? Basically, it’s a rule that all story elements should be necessary. Well, Chekov’s gun goes off many times in this film, as all the little clues in earlier parts of the movie have relevance later on. This is far from the first movie to do this well, but it’s always fun to see a movie that does it this well. The film really leans into mystery tropes, but that’s okay when the whole is executed pretty flawlessly. (As more than one person has pointed out, the plot bears at least a little resemblance to an adult version of The Westing Game and it’s still a wonder that book hasn’t been made into a film.)
And then there’s the comedy: everyone is silly but just silly enough as it still feels that, though the (excellent) cast is clearly having fun, none of these characters are jokes. Moreover, the straight woman at the centre of the film lets the rest of the cast lean in to their showier, sillier roles, while not derailing the film as a mystery. There are plenty of laughs and most of them come from the characters and their interactions; they don’t feel forced are arbitrarily inserted into the mystery.
Finally, there seems to be an allegory here, though I don’t know how much of it is an actual allegory or if it’s just more general social comment. The film is very aware of the issues of its time, which I’m not sure is a hallmark of the genre. Johnson appears to be saying that Americans need to do a better job of treating the less well off in their society or they are going to lose their country to those people, but that might be reading into this film a bit too much. Even if this allegory isn’t here, the film still has plenty of good lines – and a very funny repeating gag – about contemporary sociopolitical issues in the US.
I am not the biggest fan of the puzzle box, as I find it is done poorly more often than it is done well. But when it is done really well, as it is done here, I really enjoy it. And I am a sucker for a well-done mystery comedy. And I’m also a sucker for well-done social comment. Needless to say, I really, really enjoyed this movie.