The Mysteriously Murderous Manors of Crime Fiction
An Examination of Setting in Knives Out
Crime fiction has many common tropes often associated with its setting, including large houses with wealthy families, isolated homes in vast expanses of forest, and technological deserts, in which everyday things like cell phones are all but useless. These characteristics assist with the plot, and oftentimes are key contributors to the facts of the case. The manor in the 2019 film Knives Out, directed by Rian Johnson, displays these tropes outrightly, as it is in a large expanse of woods, and the family living in the house is built upon a family legacy of vast amounts of wealth. In many cases of crime fiction, the old manors come from old generations of money. Many characters throughout the film believe victim Harlan Thrombey to be from old money, although it is revealed later that this may not be a genuine portrayal of his rise into wealth, altering the perception of how his manor and ultimately his legacy is viewed. Unlike other crime fiction settings, Knives Out utilizes technology in order to put together pieces of the crime, instead of eliminating its use, as is common in crime fiction settings. The setting of the film is as important a piece to a crime fiction narrative as any other plot devices, like characters or events. As Joel Goldman writes: “A setting with a heartbeat represents the difference between good and great crime fiction; and allows readers to develop a true attachment to protagonists and, yes, a deep-seated fear and loathing of the villain” (1). This essay seeks to examine the tropes utilized in the film, and how they worked in providing evidence towards the case of the murder of Harlan Thrombey. The film also plays with crime fiction tropes in terms of technology. The mansion has aspects that are both archaic, like the VHS tape security system, but also modern, in the use of social media throughout the film. This essay will also show how the film used inverse versions of crime fiction stereotypes to craft a crime narrative.
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