The sequel Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Empire of Light, R.M.N.: TIFF REVIEWS

A sequel to a beloved murder mystery, a love letter to movies, a fantastic Romanian film and more.

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) runs from Sept. 8–18, 2022, and you can read our fourth dispatch below and see our previous reviews here, here and here.

Empire of Light

Empire of Light

Before presenting Empire of Light, Sam Mendes offered a warning before the screening. “We live in a cynical time, and this is a deeply uncynical movie.” It’s difficult to imagine what he meant by that; the movie itself does not seem exceptionally credulous. Inspired, in part, by his mother’s struggles with mental illness and his early awakening to the realities of racism in the UK in the early 1980s. Olivia Colman stars as Hilary, a woman working at a classic movie house. She has a lonely routine and a glazed-over expression. At work, she’s having an affair with the boss; he has strange sexual habits, and she does not seem enchanted or excited by his demands, though she enjoys the attention. On Christmas, Hilary eats dinner alone and then takes a long bath. One day, a young black man, Stephen (Michael Ward), joins the theatre staff, and his presence has an inspirational effect on Hilary, which will draw her out of her shell but also initiate a downward spiral. 

Empire of Light feels strangely vague and often unserious in its approach to its subject matter. We are told more than we are shown about the state of the world; life outside of the movie theatre often feels unreal, as if the characters were performing on a large set unmoored from the real world. Though tangentially about the “magic” of movies, the movie finds very little wonder about the cinema. Our main character never watches any film, and outside of a last-act sequence evocative of a Cineplex pre-show ad, we get very little sense of the lure of the cinema. 

Though questions of race and mental illness are at the forefront of the screenplay, they feel unstudied. The representation of race isn’t necessarily embarrassing. It also doesn’t feel fleshed out or individual – coming across instead as a broad series of clichés that are not quite offensive but also painfully unspecific. The tone of some of the scenes of Hilary’s unravelling feels more like a theatrical study than a realistic portrayal of a mental health crisis, though that might also be the bizarrely comic tone most of those scenes take on through no fault of Colman’s. Overall, despite the thin material, the whole cast is fantastic.

Empire of Light is scheduled for a December 2022 release. 

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

The sequel Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

There’s so little pleasure left in the American cinema that it’s easy to understand why Knives Out captured a hungry audience’s attention. The first film was a surprise hit by director Rian Johnson. Though it featured an all-star cast, it tackled a genre that often feels outdated: the murder mystery. For that film, Johnson introduced the bumbling Southern detective, Benoit Blanc, charmingly brought to the screen by Daniel Craig. 

Right off the bat, Glass Onion shifts away from expectations set by that first film. Set in the early months of the pandemic, the opening sequence features a frenzied clip show of characters: movie stars, governors and MRA-style social media influencers. As things go, they all receive a mysterious puzzle box that will unite them to help solve a murder. 

With a glamorous cast who all seem to revel in being slimy and untrustworthy, this Knives Out sequel feels like a decadent treat. It’s silly, funny and completely over-the-top as it dismantles expectations set by the first film. Much in the spirit of classic Detective stories, this film stands alone completely from the previous one; it’s just another case for Benoit Blanc rather than part of a continuous storyline. There’s a lot of playfulness in constructing an intricate narrative, spirited dialogue and slimy characters; that sense of fun translates directly to what’s on screen. 

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is scheduled for a December release. 



Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu’s films, have a way of creeping up on you. At first, they seem lifeless, almost impossibly dour. He prefers overcast skies, unsmiling characters and a strange blue tint. They can seem out of this world, so tragic and desperate that they border on being pitiful. His work’s energy makes it feel like anything might happen, like the earth itself might crack open and swallow up the characters whole, but you’re not sure whether to laugh or cry. 

With his latest, R.M.N, he once again does not disappoint. As the film opens, a young boy walks through the woods only to witness something terrible out of frame. The film doesn’t show us what happened, but we learn that whatever he saw has left a deep scar on his psyche; he no longer can sleep alone and barely speaks. His father returns home from a job (he’s fired for headbutting someone) and once again becomes entangled in the twisted drama of small-town life. He resumes an affair with an old fling who has recently been promoted to manage the local bread factory. The bakery is severely in need of workers, but most working-age people have moved elsewhere or are unwilling to work for minimum wage. The company hires foreign workers from Sri Lanka, which drives the town into a xenophobic frenzy. 

While on the surface, Mungiu comes across as a deeply naturalistic filmmaker, what sets this film apart is its frenzied romanticism and strange surrealism. Reality itself feels destabilized by otherworldly forces, not in the sense that there’s anything specifically supernatural or spiritual at work, but in how the world we live in can often be inexplicably and unpredictably weird. The film’s highlight is an extended single-take town hall sequence that reaches levels of comically nightmarish frenzy that will leave you breathless.

R.M.N. is scheduled to be released by IFC. at a date TBA in 2022.

For more film and TV coverage, please visit our Film & TV section.