When Knives Out was unsheathed in 2019, the movie whodunnit wasn’t merely out of style. It was as good as knocked out cold with a candlestick in the billiard room, where give or take the odd notable groan – Memento, Gosford Park, another Murder on the Orient Express – it had been languishing undiscovered since the mid-1980s.
Three years later, thanks in no small part to Rian Johnson’s film, the genre is well and truly back from the dead. Cinemas are screening See How They Run and Bodies, Bodies, Bodies. Even video games joined in with Among Us: a wink-murder-style online diversion which 60 million of us dabbled in daily during the pandemic.
At the beginning of Glass Onion – Johnson’s preposterously entertaining Knives Out sequel, which has its European premiere tonight at the London Film Festival – we learn master detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is among their number. Slumped in the bathtub in a self-isolated funk, he’s playing a round of Among Us against some notable opponents – two of whom, Angela Lansbury and Stephen Sondheim, are making their poignantly fitting final screen appearances.
As the star of Murder, She Wrote, Lansbury’s expertise in the whodunnit field is well known. As for Sondheim, the composer and lyricist was also a connoisseur of games and riddles, and co-wrote 1973's The Last of Sheila, an ensemble thriller in which a glamorous scavenger hunt in the Med goes gorily awry. Johnson, clearly inspired by this half-forgotten gem, gives the premise a hilariously precise modern-day revamp. Here the setting is a private Greek island, where Miles Bron (Edward Norton) – a Silicon Valley magnate with more than a faint musk of a certain Elon – has invited some of his oldest friends for a lockdown-busting jaunt.
They make a very 2020s potpourri: a much-cancelled fashionista (Kate Hudson), a puffed-up YouTube pundit (Dave Bautista), and a compromised political candidate (Kathryn Hahn) are among the intensely recognisable guests. Others include Cassandra Brand (Janelle Monáe), Bron's estranged ex-business partner, and of course Blanc himself, who isn’t even initially clear which puzzle he’s been brought along to solve.
What begins as a genteel murder-mystery dinner soon descends into something more sinister – but, as in Knives Out, part of the fun is working out exactly what’s amiss. Johnson’s screenplay is structured like a suite of virtuoso card tricks, with misdirection, callbacks and disarming comic asides all working in concert to keep the viewer constantly tickled and agog. An early mention of Bach’s Fugue in G minor winks at the broader narrative strategy: as the chain of events replays from various angles, clues brush up against each other in devious counterpoint, until the full story is finally revealed.
The entire cast, clad in knockout resort-wear, are fully up to speed. Hudson luxuriates in her juiciest role in years, Norton skewers tech-saviour inanity with laser precision, while Craig brings the house down with two separate, outrageously satisfying climactic monologues, each delivered in Blanc’s bourbon-sloshing Southern burr. Like its precursor, Glass Onion doubles as a dazzlingly engineered gizmo and a raucous cautionary satire, with implications that billow out into the world even as its mechanisms snap satisfyingly shut.
Glass Onion closes the London Film Festival this evening. In cinemas from Nov 23-29, then on Netflix from Dec 23