THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER – It’s Lanthimos’s world and we’re all just slowly dying in it.

 

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2017)

 

There’s nothing better than watching a film made by a director you absolutely love and have it meet every expectation. It becomes even more enjoyable when the tonal frequency of the filmmaker is compatible with yours. It’s a pure coincidence, of course – no great filmmaker remains great by catering to an audience – which is what makes it special.

Since his breakout film, Dogtooth, Yorgos Lanthimos has been relentless in his personal translation of the world around us: The mundane attributes of a typical human society stretched to lengths and limits and turned upside down so that even the most vanilla of daily moments are revealed as absurdly ritualistic. The bare bones of this concept are not unique… David Lynch did it with American suburbia, Charlie Kauffman with industry and media, and Roy Andersson with middle-class Norwegians. What sets Lanthimos apart is that his characters are not mere pawns of a greater society, they are the society. While the other filmmakers play with characters in a world bigger and more comprehensive than they can really wrap their heads around (Blue Velvet, Being John Malkovich, and A Bird Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence all feature people who are naive and alien to the world they have entered), Lanthimos’s central characters build the world and make its rules themselves.

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which can be considered Lanthimos’s first dive into genre cinema, plays on the same sort of premise set by James Wan’s Saw series. A sociopathic teenager named Martin (Barry Keoghan, who deserves every award for this) sets the rules for a game wherein the central character, a surgeon named Steven, (Colin Farrell) must make an unthinkable sacrifice to save himself and others. If he doesn’t play by these rules, then everyone dies. Unlike Jigsaw, Martin is not presented as a criminal mastermind, but as a timid, bumbling pubescent teen.  His actions are motivated purely by isolated revenge and not some greater worldly moral postulate. As Martin says, “this is the only thing I can think of that comes close to justice.”

Martin is a world-builder and very much in charge of everything that happens in the film. Much like the Father in Dogtooth who raises his children on strange and false fears about the world, or the Hotel Employees in The Lobster who set a timer on single people finding a mate, everyone else is at his whim. The Greek mythological allegory going on in the film is Iphigenia in Aulis, which is a tale of events sparked by Agamemnon killing one of Artemis’s sacred deer. This God-like stature of Martin is prevalent in the film, by the fact that his methodologies for enacting this vengeance are never discussed, and how he gets around is never shown. His phantom presence, over time, clouds over Steven’s family to a suffocating degree.

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Despite this, Lanthimos’s villains can never be too self-serious. They are still manifested as humans, and like all humans in Lanthimos’s world, they are also uncomfortably funny. One of the most terrifyingly giddy moments in the film is when Martin showcases how much he believes his own words as he bites off a chunk of Steven’s arm, and then proceeds to do the same to his own arm. In the most monotone voice possible, mouth full of blood, he drools out, “See? It’s metaphorical.” This can be expected from a filmmaker who revels in the fact that no moment can be completely normal, but is always a direct representation of how numb we are to the absurdity of societal norms and our own thought processes. Pushing this even further is that outside of the genre tropes of a typical horror film, everything else is filled with Lanthimos’s standard ingredients, namely his dialogues which make every phrase sound like its being recited by robots attempting to mimic human conversation.

The mix is discomfiting, and that’s really what it aims to be. In the end, all of Lanthimos’s films are about things humans feel often. His darker and more sadistic tone with this film doesn’t change the fact that it’s a movie about loss and our urge to get back at those who wronged us. But even in the face of death and murder his characters can’t help but dive into whimsy. When first confronted with his impossible situation, Steven bargains with his mistakes by saying “A surgeon can never kill a patient. An anesthesiologist can kill a patient, but a surgeon never can.” It’s a hopeless tactic of ill-conceived logic, but when we’re pushed to the brink of doom, we’ll say anything to keep ourselves going. In Lanthimos’s world, our fears and actions and words become parts of a Greek tragicomedy. In every character, we see something about ourselves laughing back at us. We can’t help but (uncomfortably) laugh along too.

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Personal Shopper

 

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Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2017)

 

The triumph of Kristen Stewart’s highly-touted performance in Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper is both a result of great casting and Stewart’s pressure situation for having the film’s entire plot be dependent on her character’s emotional reactions to situations. Stewart plays Maureen, a “personal shopper” for an uppity French designer. Her monotonous job involves going from store to store picking out outfits that her boss wants for her next runway show. However the film’s meat comes from Maureen’s real reason for being in Paris… finding her dead brother’s ghost. Olivier blends the melodrama of familial relations with a supernatural thriller but the film maintains a fully character-centric focus. The plot chugs only as fast and as slow as Maureen wants it to, making Stewart the center of attention in virtually every moment of the film. This speed conditioning is manifested quite literally in the long sequence in which Maureen receives anonymous texts in riddles. Throughout these sequences our perception of “time” in the movie is dictated completely by the pace at which Maureen responds to the texts. Our emotions are dictated by her’s facial response to each one she receives and the wait-time between the anonymous texter’s responses. Assayas’s deliberate subversion of American horror film tropes also play directly into Stewart’s ability to act. Ghosts, sex, and murder are all siphoned through Stewart and the camera concentrates on her personal encounters with these instances more than the instances themselves.

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The ending sequences concludes with a line uttered by Maureen which explains Assayas’s entire approach to the film as a pedestal for Stewart and her character: “Is it you… or is it just me”. The phantom thumps a “yes”.

Halloween Special: Kill List is the BEST Horror Movie of the 21st Century (so far)

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Kill List (Ben Wheatley, 2010)

Horror is a genre of movie which is becoming thoroughly predictable isn’t it? Every commercial for the next horror movie that comes on TV shows a bunch of weird shit jumping out with a loud thumping noise that’s supposed to make you jump, but in all honesty it’s easy to tell when things are about to pop out at you. Build-up is conventional, creaking noises, slowly opening doors, footsteps, someone taking a piss in dead silence… all of this and them BAM, scary motherfucking demon girl pops up and all you can do is roll your eyes.

For the people who think I’m dismissing The Conjuring, I’m not… don’t get me wrong, James Wan knows how to make a horror movie. He made Saw for crying out loud, which is a fantastic horror movie (which was thus systematically ruined by all its sequels). But you know what’s really scary? You know what really terrifies the piss out of people? Cults. People who are obsessed and brainwashed over an ideology. Pedophiles scare the piss out of people. Rapists scare the piss out of people. The reason for this is because we KNOW they exist in our world. Demons and ghosts and elaborate sociopaths are mostly a figment of imagination… but real monsters, the humans, those are fucking TERRIFYING.

This is why Ben Wheatley’s Kill List is so far, the best horror movie of the 21st century. It’s a movie consumed by the vilest of people and their complete irreverence to others opinions of them. It’s consumed by the psychology of dealing with torment and excruciating evil that one could not imagine a human being is capable of, but is faced with the reality that it happens every day. Kill List is a movie about 2 hitmen assigned to… well, kill some people who on a “list”. But this movie incorporates so much of horror’s tropes or creepy music, tracking shots, and gory violence and combines it with what exists in our own society. The main character’s psychological meltdown is very similar to our own when faced with articles about topics which “disgust us”, events which make us “hate the world”. These are the things that truly awful and truly SCARY because we live in them.

Oh, and Kill List is a fantastic story too. Completely unexpected in its trajectory, you never know what’s going to happen next or even why certain things are happening. The movie is shrouded in mystery and should be as it reveals things which are hidden in our own society, but we don’t notice because we are too scared to look.

Point is, as Halloween weekend is here, and you need a freaking GREAT horror movie to watch with people, make is Ben Wheatley’s KILL LIST. And get ready to have your mind and senses shredded in a blender.