Claire Folger

Rian Johnson knows his shit. Ever since Brick, the writer/director's brilliant neo-noir from 2005—and on through his conman caper The Brothers Bloom, his sci-fi action flick Looper, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which somehow managed to both deconstruct all the Star Wars movies to date while also being the best Star Wars movie to date—Johnson has played with genre in ways few filmmakers can. Both a devotee of formula and a guy who can't resist ripping formulas apart, Johnson makes movies that're simultaneously comforting and surprising—offering a warm rush of the familiar, chased by the acidic sting of the new. They're fun, heartfelt, and jaw-droppingly smart—just about the best possible combination of things you want a movie to be.

Knives Out, Johnson's phenomenally enjoyable riff on a murder-mystery whodunit, is no different. Since it's... well, a murder-mystery whodunit, the less you know going in, the better, but even those familiar with mysteries will likely be caught flat-footed. Things begin in the baroque mansion of famed mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), who is very, very dead. Through flashbacks, monologues, and the genteel but razor-sharp questioning of investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), we meet the rest of the Thrombeys—played by Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Katherine Langford, and more, with everyone clearly having a goddamn blast—and we hear about a billion motives and a billion alibis. Somebody killed Harlan, and while Benoit Blanc is on the case, ("I suspect," Craig drawls in Benoit Blanc's wonderfully ridiculous Southern accent, "foul play"), Knives Out quickly spirals into unexpected territory.

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Knives Out is also funny—far, far funnier than most movies that begin with the discovery of a very, very dead old man—and the dryly hilarious ensemble, which also includes excellent turns from LaKeith Stanfield, Chris Evans, and Blade Runner 2049's Ana de Armas, is happy to race down each of Johnson's turns and twists. And the audience, too, that I saw Knives Out with was entirely onboard, bursting into applause at the end. And it deserved that applause: In a time when filmgoing is dominated by familiar franchises, seeing an original movie executed with as much care, glee, and skill as Knives Out feels like an experience that's entirely too rare. And seeing it with a crowd that, right alongside Benoit Blanc, is also trying to figure out who killed Harlan? Well, that's a rare experience, too. Don't miss it.

Knives Out is now playing at various theaters.