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Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Knives Out Sequel Seems Made for the Internet

The Monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter.


To begin, a casting announcement. Three of them, actually. We’ll start with the most recent one. On Thursday, Deadline reported that Kathryn Hahn is set to join the sequel to Knives Out, director Rian Johnson’s amazingly clever 2019 whodunit. This news came on the heels of reports that Janelle Monáe,  Dave Bautista, and Edward Norton were also lined up to star in the sequel, which is being made as part of a two-movie deal with Netflix reported to be worth some $450 million. If the news of a Knives Out 2 movie alone wasn’t thrilling enough, this latest update is pretty electrifying.

It also proves that this movie is likely to do exactly what it should: light up the damn internet. Back in 2019, Knives Out was kind of a sleeper hit. It made less than $27 million in its opening weekend but went on to make more than $310 million worldwide, thanks in part to word of mouth and genuine goodwill. The people who saw it championed it fiercely. It inspired memes and a rabid fandom for cable knit sweaters brought on by the one Chris Evans wore in the film. (See: #KnivesOutChallenge.) It was, in short, beloved.

It’s no wonder, then, that Netflix laid out such a massive amount of cash to secure its sequels. The streaming service does well with internet-beloved cultish favorites. But unlike with, say, The Office, Netflix will be able to own these sequels outright, because it paid for them. It’s possible, though, that Netflix may not own everything connected with the movie-cum-franchise. After the deal went public, whomever has been running the @KnivesOut Twitter account posted a somewhat somber message about not being part of Knives Out 2, leading some to call for Netflix to hire the social media manager immediately. (The original film was produced and distributed by Lionsgate and MPC, and presumably that Twitter maven worked for one of them.)

Twitter content

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Twitter content

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This is exactly the kind of enthusiasm Netflix needs if it's going to capitalize on its acquisition. Which brings us back to the casting. For one, Monáe, Norton, Hahn, and Bautista are all excellent additions to any cast. For another, they’re all compelling choices. The first Knives Out succeeded because so many of the actors in its ensemble got to play slightly against type. It had Brit Daniel Craig—literally James Bond—playing an exuberant Southern detective trying to solve a potential murder. LaKeith Stanfield, an actor not particularly known for playing down-the-middle characters, was Craig’s straight-from-central-casting gumshoe. It had Evans—literally Captain America—playing an entitled and conniving brat. Often creepy Michael Shannon was creepy in Knives Out, too, but he also had an air of insecurity. Jamie Lee Curtis was Jamie Lee Curtis (there was no need to mess with perfection). 

There’s been no word yet on what characters Monáe, Norton, Hahn, and Bautista will play in Johnson's new murder mystery, but one can only hope the director will make Monáe go full comedy and the guy who plays Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy into a befuddled straight man archetype. Hahn, perhaps, will play a mousey non-witch. (Early reports suggest she'll be “keeping some sort of secret,” but perhaps that just means she's a secret weapon?) Norton has always been all over the place, but here’s hoping he’s able to lean more toward Birdman than 25th Hour.

This is what I mean when I say Knives Out 2 seems made for the internet. Hiring a bunch of splashy actors doesn’t get you much these days unless you either (A) put them in an Oscar-bait movie or (B) make them do the kind of slightly askew stuff that makes them meme fodder. There’s just one catch: It can’t be manufactured. Though fan entitlement can often lead to backlash when filmmakers don’t give people what they want, doing things just to catch the internet’s attention will backfire too. It’s a trap. When Johnson—and by extension Lionsgate and MPC—released Knives Out a few years ago, it was obvious it was something unique; it was served up to mainstream audiences, but it was the ardent online fans who kept its Agatha Christie–style hearth warm. There is no doubt Johnson could conjure the same magic for its sequels, but he needs to be careful—too many A-list cameos could make it hard to cast the spell.

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