After serial killer movies became quite popular in the eighties, it was time to give them a nineties twist. You couldn’t have just an ordinary killer who kills in an ordinary way. You had to have something unique, something that’s going to make your movie stand out in the video store. Oddly enough, more than thirty years later, things pretty much remain the same. The video store was replaced by your streaming service’s catalog but the concept is exactly the same. Can you guess what’s that special thing about this movie? I think that the title can help you with that and no, we won’t be solving any medieval crimes.
Ambitious and messy, Knight Moves is a guilty pleasure thriller featuring a classic serial killer story but with a chess twist. We will be following a chess grandmaster who gets implicated in a series of gruesome murders during an important tournament. Why would someone target him and could he perhaps be the killer himself is up to the two local detectives to find out. They will be, of course, helped by a young and an attractive psychologist. After all, these are the nineties although I’m sure you’ll notice that. In the lead roles, we have Christopher Lambert and Diane Lane, who were actually a couple at that time.
I’ve been a huge Lambert fan ever since Highlander and I think I watched most of his movies. He’s at the same time intense, casual, and just slightly silly, a combination that works well when it comes to these types of movies. And Diane Lane was also great, you might remember her from such movies as Unfaithful and Murder at 1600. Tom Skerritt (Alien) and Daniel Baldwin play the roles of the two detectives. Knight Moves opens with a rather artistic origin story for our killer. After that, we will be swimming in familiar waters. A body pops up, the killer taunts the detectives and leaves another piece of the puzzle for Lambert to figure out.
Rinse and repeat and you got yourself a solid thriller. In the background, we have the romantic subplot and the tournament that’s still going on despite everything. These chess people are not fucking around. The cinematography is excellent and the same goes for the sets. The atmosphere is dreary and suspenseful, helped by perpetual rain and the authentic British Columbia, Canada setting. You really can’t tell that this is an obscure nineties thriller just by looking at it. The script, on the other hand, is overwritten. It’s quite blunt and without much subtlety spelling out what the viewer should focus on.
Lambert even explains what’s going on out loud several times during the movie. However, it’s things like this that make Knight Moves such a guilty pleasure and a relaxing experience. Add to this a lot of twists, suspense, and mystery and you got yourself a perfect little thriller. It took me three nights to finish it as I kept playing it as my last movie. I kept coming back to it despite vaguely remembering who the killer was from my initial viewing, some twenty-plus years ago. I remembered Knight Moves as that movie with Cristopher Lambert, chess, and a serial killer. And I really wanted to see how it’s going to feel after all this time.
It felt pretty much the same which is a huge plus for a movie of this caliber. It was a modest success in the US but a huge hit in Europe. Lambert, visuals, and a pseudointellectual serial killer plot were the main culprits for this. In terms of gore and graphic violence, the movie is quite timid. There will be no nasty kills and just a few tastefully done sex scenes. A couple of years later, Lambert will be back in action, chasing another serial killer in Resurrection. Now that movie features a lot of graphic scenes. Finally, I just want to clarify that Knight Moves has nothing to do with the Night Moves, one of the best noir movies out there.
Director: Carl Schenkel
Writer: Brad Mirman
Cast: Christopher Lambert, Diane Lane, Tom Skerritt, Daniel Baldwin, Blu Mankuma, Ferdy Mayne
Fun Facts: Knight Moves features two video games, Battle Chess (Lambert’s character plays it) and Super Mario Bros. 3 (His daughter plays it).