In the riotously entertaining “Knives Out,” much of the action is set inside a single building: a gorgeous, antiquated mansion full of mahogany accents and period decor. In the film, now in theaters, it belongs to mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), who is killed the night of his 85th birthday party.
The mansion is a perfect setting for the movie, which filmed in a dozen Massachusetts municipalities last year. Like the mansion in the 1985 mystery-comedy “Clue,” to which “Knives Out” owes a debt of gratitude, the Thrombey estate anchors the audience and traps all of the suspects under one roof as they are interrogated by detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig).
“There’s something about fall in New England that is just murder mystery-esque in the perfect way,” director Rian Johnson told The Hollywood Reporter.
In reality, the mansion comprises two separate buildings, at least one in New England. The identity of one, which is privately owned, contractually cannot be disclosed by filmmakers. The other is the Ames Mansion, a palatial stone building built as a residence in the early 1900s that is now the centerpiece of Borderland State Park in Easton.
Speaking by phone, “Knives Out” location manager Charlie Harrington said he knew the Ames Mansion would be a great spot for filming, having previously used the building — and even the same room within it — to film the 2016 “Ghostbusters” reboot. On “Knives Out,” Harrington and crews spent a large portion of production time in that one room, a library in the Ames Mansion, as director Johnson put actors like Sudbury native Chris Evans (“The Avengers”), Toni Collette (“Little Miss Sunshine”), Don Johnson (“Miami Vice”), and Jamie Lee Curtis (“Halloween”) under his magnifying glass.
“The movie cuts in and out of that room for pretty much the whole film,” Harrington said. “As everyone tells their story, their alibi, we stayed in that room.”
The real Ames Mansion was once home to Blanche Ames, an artist, botanist, and women’s rights activist, as well as her husband Oakes Ames, Harvard botany professor and heir to a wealthy shovel company. A limited number of tours of the building are available each year; Borderland Park is open year-round.
Beyond the mansion, Borderland has hosted multiple film crews in years past, including ones for “Mermaids,” the 1990 comedy-drama starring Cher, Bob Hoskins, and Winona Ryder, and 2010’s “Shutter Island,” for which filmmaker Martin Scorsese used a cabin and nearby pond.
Joe Rotondo is a special events manager for the Department of Conservation and Recreation; he helps scout government-owned locations for film productions in the state. Speaking by phone, Rotondo said the very same cabin Scorsese filmed for “Shutter Island” was used earlier this month to film a still-to-be-revealed project.
Rotondo said the “Ghostbusters” and “Knives Out” teams ended up using the Ames Mansion in significantly different ways, and that he was pleased with how effectively Johnson captured the spirit of the building.
“‘Ghostbusters,’ when they came in, they said, ‘Oh, this is so great,’" said Rotondo. "But then they came in and put up all these walls so that it almost could have been filmed anywhere.
“‘Knives Out’ just kind of fell in love with the building itself,” he continued. "They used it the way it is. What you see in the film is what’s there. Rian Johnson loved the place and really respected it.”