From Agatha Christie Adaptations to ‘Knives Out’ Movies, There’s a Rise of the Whodunnits for a Reason
I love a whodunnit, and maybe it’s the detective side of me that loves them, or maybe it’s just because I love a good murder to solve, but there’s something about the genre that appeals to the Scorpio in me. So it is with great glee that I report that there seems to be a rise in the genre. Prior to the release of Rian Johnson’s Knives Out in 2019, we had the 2017 film Murder on the Orient Express kicking off a return of the Agatha Christie adaptations, but there seemed to be a bit of a lack of the genre in the entertainment world at the time.
Or, more that we lacked good whodunnits, because really, a whodunnit is only as good as the journey it takes you on. For the most part, you can sort of figure out who’s the bad guy right from the jump, but the telltale sign of a good whodunnit is the twists it takes to make you second-guess what you know and keep you guessing throughout the entire ride.
And now, as we’re gearing up for the release of not one but two new whodunnits (in both Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery and See How They Run), let’s talk about the genre as a whole and this new revival and why it works so well.
Hercule Poirot is on the case
While both Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile were cursed by their casts, they were pretty great adaptations of the Agatha Christie story. They just had to deal with the storm of drama that came from casting decisions made beforehand and, thus, left the series up in the air. With Kenneth Branagh both behind the camera and starring as Hercule Poirot, it was nice to see these stories come to life with someone who really loves them behind the wheel, which made the problems with the cast that much more disappointing.
We know how much Branagh connected with Christie’s work from the official Agatha Christie site itself, and it shows in the films. He has, reportedly, signed on to do a third one, and I wouldn’t be mad about it. I just also think that they’re going to make sure every single person involved in that movie doesn’t do a single thing wrong until the movie is done and over with—and the press circuit is over.
A new kind of whodunnit
We also have new whodunnits popping up like the film See How They Run, set to release on September 16—which is, if I’m being honest, what made me realize that we’re in a bit of a whodunnit renaissance, and I’m having the time of my life. Now, See How They Run isn’t out yet (and though I’ve seen it, I can’t yet talk about it) but it is a whodunnit in every sense of the word, and it does turn the lens on others of its kind.
We’ve always sort of had whodunnits, and our obsession with them has spread into things like Clue the board game (which also has a new movie in the works) and into media far and wide. That love has spawned this new age of the genre, which is tongue-in-cheek while still being true to the idea of a whodunnit and not trying to reinvent the wheel.
Which brings us to my favorite of the new wave: Rian Johnson’s Knives Out.
The Knives Out of it all
When the 2019 film Knives Out came out, I knew almost instantly that Ransom Drysdale (played by Chris Evans) did it. But I do believe that, by design, that is the point of the film (and also a tell of a great whodunnit). I could just feel in my heart that it was Ransom, but as the movie went on, I began to second-guess what I thought I knew. I kept following each new twist and changing my mind. Then I’d go back to my original thought, only to have something else make me second-guess my choices, and it went round and round until the last moments, when his true nature was revealed.
And to me, that’s a whodunnit. It isn’t about having a twist ending that leaves the audience feeling like they’ve been completely tricked in an unsatisfying way. It’s about laying all the cards right out on the table and then finding ways of keeping people guessing, and Rian Johnson nailed it in Knives Out, which is what makes me so excited about Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.
To me, this is the way to bring the genre into the modern age. I don’t mind the Christie adaptations; I think they’re fun. I don’t mind the new takes on the genre that add new elements into the story, but what Johnson did was just simply write a whodunnit and make it so we questioned everything happening in the best way. It helped that he continues to tell these stories with stacked casts to keep everyone guessing.
So personally? I love the return of the whodunnit, and I hope it continues. And if it means that I can get 10 movies out of the Knives Out franchise, then so be it!
(featured image: Lionsgate)
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]