Monday, November 13, 2017
THE LOBSTER'S NIGHTMARE: a review of "The Killing Of A Sacred Deer"
Screenplay Written by Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
***1/2 (three and a half stars)
Last year, I announced to all of you that "The Lobster," Writer/Director Yorgos Lanthimos' debut English feature was my number one favorite film of the year. In fact, I even went much further in my extreme admiration for the bleakly grim, satirical story of a dystopian future society where single people were given a time limit of 30 days or else be transformed into the animal of their choice as I stated that it was undoubtedly one of the most audacious, creative, inventive, visionary and downright best films that I had seen over the last ten years.
I stand firmly by those sentiments even now, while also understanding that essentially anything that Lanthimos devised for his follow up feature would have some big shoes to fill. And while his new film, "The Killing Of A Sacred Deer" doesn't quite pack the same cumulative punch as "The Lobster" achieved for me, I have to tell you that it does indeed come pretty damn close.
As with "The Lobster," Yorgos Lanthimos has continued to immerse himself within a cinematic aesthetic that recalls the stylistic flourishes of Stanley Kubrick circa his work in both "A Clockwork Orange" (1971) and "The Shining" (1980), from shot compositions, disorienting and increasingly disturbing usages of classical music, as well as the cold, detached chilliness of the proceedings that ultimately belie the heated emotional turbulence of the story, characters and devastating consequences.
But rest assured, Yorgos Lantimos is no Kubrick copycat, as the cinematic universe he has created, while reminiscent of some elements we could find in the works of Wes Anderson, Terry Gilliam as well as the aforementioned Stanley Kubrick, is as unique as one's specifically individualized bad dreams. In those terms, "The Killing Of A Sacred Deer" is an especially bad dream indeed but one that makes for explicitly exciting and sometimes enthralling cinema.
Yorgos Lanthimos' "The Killing Of A Sacred Deer" reunites him with his leading actor from "The Lobster," again a fully committed Colin Farrell who stars as Steven Murphy, a highly skilled and successful heart surgeon, living a more than comfortable existence in suburbia with his equally successful ophthalmologist wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their two children, teenaged Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and her younger brother Bob (Sunny Suljic).
For a period of time Steven has been taking in the company of the teenaged Martin (Barry Keoghan), an awkward, somewhat fawning and Fatherless high school student, with whom the twosome share a connection. The boy soon ingratiates himself into Steven's family and slowly begins dating Kim.
When a secret from Steven's past resurfaces, the conflict between himself, his family and Martin intensifies into an excruciating experience that will unravel Steven's perfect world entirely and undoubtedly. And to say any more would only spoil...
In a cinematic year where horror films have transcended its own genre to encompass larger subject matter and therefore, holding a mirror to reflect the horror that exists in the real world every day, from Andy Muschietti's "It," Sofia Coppola's "The Beguiled," Darren Aronofsky's "mother!," and most brilliantly, Jordan Peele's "Get Out," Yorgos Lanthimos's "The Killing Of A Sacred Deer" is especially uncompromising and terrifying.
Lanthimos has devised a tale of such strenuous and tightly wound psychological horror that the experience holds you within its vice grip as its languid, insistent pacing gradually pulls you under like quicksand. While there are aspects of the film that are inexplicable, this tactic only serves to increase the terror and anguish of the characters as Steven is indeed faced with an impossible choice that Lanthimos has no intention of ever truly letting him off of the hook--try as Steven desperately attempts to no avail.
Yes, the events are all present in the title. There is a killing but the "sacred deer" is for you to see for yourselves if you are indeed willing to undertake a film that, while never gratuitous, is just not interested in making the experience easy to undertake by any means as Lanthimos has created a film of karmic retribution at its most viscious, and I would not be surprised if some viewers feel is morally repugnant.
In a way, "The Killing Of A Sacred Deer" reminded me a little bit of Richard Kelly's "The Box" (2009), the mesmerizing yet deeply flawed thriller of a young couple given the choice of pressing a button located on top of a box after which they would receive one million dollars, yet once the button is pushed, someone they do not know will die. Unlike that film, which was undone by its own meandering and downright messy qualities, Lanthimos is in complete control of his material, slowly twisting the knife at the right pace and at the right time until the precise point where the tension will be stretched to its breaking point.
But to what end, you ask? I think that Lanthimos is utilizing the brutality of the story to frame another exploration into an existential crisis of self perception, especially as it relates to our own individualized relationships with personal morality and how one's personal value system can clash with another's. In "The Killing Of A Sacred Deer," the value systems of Steven and Martin and eventually Steven and his family and even then, the family members against each other clash violently and irrevocably. Yet, given the sinister nightmare logic of the film and its upending strangeness-- so crisply visualized by Cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis--we are not being presented with a "real" world, so to speak.
And even then, there really felt to be an additional layer to the film that only intensified its own level of inscrutable madness and the clue seemed to arrive from Colin Farrell himself in an interview he gave to writer Jada Yuan for the October 11, 2017 publication of Vulture during which he stated the following:
"The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is actually the nightmare a character in The Lobster may have. You'd wake up relieved to be in the world of The Lobster if that was your dream."
As bizarre as that statement may appear, it really feels to make perfect sense once having seen the film for myself. As with filmmakers like the aforementioned Wes Anderson, Terry Gilliam, Stanley Kubrick to even Quentin Tarantino, I am curious if Yorgos Lanthimos is devising a larger cinematic universe for his own horrifically idiosyncratic stories.
Whether the imagined worlds of both "The Lobster" and "The Killing Of A Sacred Deer" are necessarily worse than the other would be up to each and every viewer (for my money, the world of "The Lobster" is more terrifying), it does indeed feel as if the character of Steven Murphy as played by Colin Farrell could have been a dream world projection of his character from "The Lobster," as he forces himself to confront his own perilous predicament in trying to avoid a seemingly inevitable fate of being transformed into a lobster and ultimately eaten by the very human beings he used to be himself by working through his quandary in a dream word where he is faced with another devastating and inevitable fate. Not every little element necessarily makes sense within "The Killing Of A Sacred Deer" and that is perfectly fine as the film is filtered through this apocalyptic creeping doom that is inescapable, like the feelings we experience during bad dreams.
Colin Farrell's excellent performance, with his clipped, deadpan delivery, is virtually an echo of his exact performance from "The Lobster," making me feel as if he is indeed portraying a variation of the same man. Additionally, Lanthimos includes elements of damaged eyes into the mix plus having crucial decisions play out in diners and to that end, even the animal theme arises again but in ways that are more visually explicit than conceptual.
Quite often, it felt to me as if the world of "The Lobster" had been toyed with and therefore, re-contextualized into this new environment of "The Killing Of A Sacred Deer." Yet, what if this world is not a dream, so to speak, but more of an extension of the world of "The Lobster"? Frightening, indeed. But, it unquestionably showcases the superb artistic skill of Yorgos Lanthimos, ensuring that he is a filmmaker to really keep your eyes upon.
Yorgos Lanthimos' "The Killing Of A Sacred Deer" is difficult, demanding, and undeniably strange but it is also yet another example of why we need to have filmmakers like Lanthimos in the word devising stories designed to rattle our cages and shake us out of any sense of cinematic complacency. No, it is not for everyone and nor should it be. But it is a film that refuses to be ignored as it forces us to have a connection and response to it. Yes, it will disturb you. Perhaps to the point of wondering just what is the purpose of everything presented, especially when it is a vision so unrepentant, so seemingly nihilistic.
To that, I simply state to you that "The Killing Of A Sacred Deer" is not explicitly real. It is an especially brutal parable. A punishing morality play. It is Greek tragedy.