The Killing Of A Sacred Deer: A Twisted Contemporary Greek Tragedy

Written by Emily Jones

Known as one of 2017’s strangest movies, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is a psychological thriller directed by famed director Yorgos Lanthimos. Known for his stilted characters featuring robotic deliveries, Lanthomo’s latest movie, in fact, features a series of transactional relationships and conversations between characters which emphasize its peculiarity. Starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone and Bill Camp, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is a surreal movie experience that effortlessly defies any rational explanations right from its beginning. Recently released, the movie is currently available for viewing on the Chili website.

The movie is based on the Greek story of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae who paid the terrible price his family must pay once it is discovered that he killed a deer, precious to the goddess Artemis. As payment for his killing, Artemis demands that Agamemnon sacrifice one of his children, either his daughter Iphigenia or son Orestes, in her honor. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer portrays this Greek tragedy in Cincinnati, where heart surgeon Steven (Colin Farrell) is confronted by Martin (Barry Keoghan) who lost his father during one of Steven’s surgeries. A few years after his father’s passing and now a teenager, Martin seeks revenge and issues a chilling ultimatum. He threatens that Steven must choose one of his family members to die so that he can amend Martin’s father’s death. If Steven refuses to do so, each of his family members will suddenly diefrom a mysterious illness. Steven must, therefore, make a decision as his family members are already falling in, and in doing so his family’s craven, self-centered and brutal cores are revealed.

While this movie features little blood, very few scenes of violence and a courteous and gentle villain, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer still manages to be completely and viscerally terrifying. The movie greatly focuses on a person’s sense of responsibility and the great lengths they may go about to try not being held accountable for their mistakes. It focuses on how a person’s actions and decisions contribute to where they find themselves in life and the cowardly sense of protecting their self and their self-image. While Steven refuses to accept Martin’s ultimatum and while his family falls ill, he continues to search for an alternate solution, denying what is happening around him. What makes the movie particularly strange and disturbing is also the interactions between Stevens family members. The Murphy family dynamics are mostly a series of transactions and exchanges. Bob and Kim have assigned chores, and almost all of their interactions with their parents have to do with whether or not they’ve done them and Kim (Nicole Kidman) learns her brother is in the hospital when she told she’ll have to now water his plants. Transactions are in fact what dominate the entire storyline, for the death of one of his family members, Martin demands the death of one of Steven’s.

With its peculiar characters, an interesting and somewhat historic storyline The Killing Of A Sacred Deer should certainly be among the list of must-see movies of the year. This psychological thriller explores the depths of family interactions and the toll the burden of responsibility can take on a person.

American Animals

Year: 2018
Directed by: Bart Layton
Starring: Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Jared Abrahamson, Ann Dowd

Written by Rhys Bowen-Jones

Following in the footsteps of Sarah Buddery’s Blackkklansman review, I’m finding American Animals a really difficult film to review. I’ve been trying to find an angle from which to approach the film since I saw it. It’s a film that has been firmly trenched in my mind for days now, despite the fact that on initial reflection, I wasn’t a big fan of it. Or at least, I don’t think I was. The film has morphed in my mind thanks to the numerous discussions I’ve had and articles I’ve read into something that I didn’t think it was, but even now I’m still completely unsure of myself. So, with that in mind, let’s do a deep dive into Bart Layton’s American Animals.

American Animals is a true story about two friends, Warren Lipka (Evan Peters) and Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan), who are seemingly bored with the day to day life of university. Spencer notes how he always feels like he’s waiting for something to happen. Warren considers himself something of an Artful Dodger, and the two conspire to do something extraordinary…just because. That something extraordinary? To steal an extremely valuable collection of books from the University library and sell them for profit.

There are a lot of positives to be said about American Animals, particularly the performances. Evan Peters has been on the map for years after his regular starring roles in American Horror Story, but has never made the leap to a true leading man. Here, he’s very much playing the Evan Peters-type, the cocksure, street smart, witty college student, but he seems to understand the vulnerability behind Warren. His natural charm gets him out of several holes, but once he’s in a place of uncertainty, his frailty comes out, and he loses his cool easily. Peters plays the role excellently.

Barry Keoghan’s Spencer is different. Spencer is an Art History major and an excellent artist, as shown by his hand-drawn library blueprints. He comes across as a university student who is only there to satisfy his parents. He doesn’t seem challenged by university, and feels he’s destined for something more than he’s doing. Keoghan, one of Hollywood’s current golden boys following stellar performances in The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Dunkirk, is perfect for the role. His unassuming nature and blasé attitude to everything he does, no matter how ordinary or extraordinary, is something Keoghan does well. Spencer has an intelligence about him that goes far beyond his peers, but he downplays it for others’ benefit.

Other elements of American Animals leave an impression too. The cinematography is particularly impressive in the first two-thirds of the film (this sadly diminishes as the film progresses, which I’ll get to later), cross cutting our protagonists with various “American animals,” shown as startled owls, deer in headlights, vicious bald eagles. The first few opening shots of an upside down horizon and an upside down American flag blowing in the wind are particularly impressive, but like I said, this style doesn’t last.

Music also plays a great part in the proceedings, ramping up tension when necessary and infusing scenes with 50s, 60s, and 70s rock classics, per Warren’s taste, to complement the imagery. Composer Anne Nikitin felt in control, knowing when to bring music to the fore front and when to have it drift in the background.

Here is where this review reaches a fork in the road. I saw American Animals on an evening where it was a secret film, I had an idea what the film would be, but I didn’t know for certain. I’d seen one trailer beforehand, so I went in fairly blind. I’m about to reveal a major element of the film because I feel it needs to be discussed relating to the efficacy of the film, but if you wouldn’t like to know what it is, please close this tab and carry on with your day. If you’re curious, read along.

Are we safe? Has everyone gone? Okay.

American Animals is a documentary. Or, it’s half of one. Bart Layton frequently cuts into the dramatic narrative to show interview footage with the real Warren Lipka, and the real Spencer Reinhard. This completely took me by surprise. At first, I was fascinated by the execution of it; Layton has effectively created a documentary of his own film and shown them both simultaneously. The documentary aspect brings a new dimension to the film and really drives home the unreliable narrator angle.

The story has two narrators, and both of them remember the story differently. There are some very creative sequences where we see the same event from two different perspectives. The real Warren remembers telling The real Spencer about his heist plan at a party, but Keoghan’s Spencer, mid-party, tells Peters’ Warren to “pull in here” because The real Spencer remembers being told of the heist while they were driving. Scenes change on screen as the real person narrates it differently and it adds to the experience, questioning who we can trust, and asking us what to think of The real Warren and Spencer.

Being half a documentary is both a help and a hindrance to American Animals. The help comes with scenes as described above, and offering insights into the actual people behind the heist, but the hindrances, for me at least, outweighed the positives. So much of the tension within the heist was diminished knowing certain details about the outcome just from visuals alone. The beginning of the film, upon reflection, is further interview footage showing a reaction to the crime that promised to be shocking and something that they couldn’t believe happened. And yet, the heist we got doesn’t have the necessary shock factor to stick the landing.

The tonal whiplash from being a smart, Edgar Wright-ish heist film to a stereotypical documentary results in an ultimately frustrating experience. The film promises so much in its opening half an hour and doesn’t manage to deliver on such promises. I mentioned earlier about the cinematography losing its way as the film progresses, there is an angle from which I understand the decision to make the film less flashy as the fantasy becomes reality, but it doesn’t come across as well as it thinks it does.

I hope you see why I found this so difficult to write about it. It’s a film that, despite my frustrations, deserves to be talked about from many different perspectives – the morality of the students, the filmmaking, the way the students are perceived. ‘American Animals’ feels like a film that honestly could have been something spectacular, but it doesn’t manage to reach such dizzy heights.

Rhys’ Rating:

3

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Year: 2017
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Alicia Silverstone, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic

Written by Jessica Peña

It’s not often enough a film will come around that will leave you in awe, laughing, cringing, and downright terrified. Yorgos Lanthimos’ ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ will find you in these states and will claw at your psyche well after its ending credits. It carries very dark comedic tones and chilling subjects. The film examines the absence of any virtue and becomes one of the most unsettling and gratifying cinematic experiences of the year.

Dr. Stephen Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a renowned cardiovascular surgeon who lives a comfortable and pristine suburban life with his wife (Nicole Kidman), son (Sunny Suljic), and teenage daughter (Raffey Cassidy). It becomes known that he’s struggled with an alcohol problem in the past, leading to the death of a man on his operating table. Here’s where things get a little interesting. Held with a guilt, Stephen meets Martin (Barry Keoghan), the deceased patient’s 16 year old son. Martin begins to spend time with Stephen over the course of a few months. They get to know each other a little through meeting each other’s families, dinner visits, and ‘too close for comfort’ conversations. Martin tries endlessly to have Stephen in his life. There comes a point where Martin begins to cross the line on what he says to Stephen, making his family uncomfortable, and so Stephen ends all forms of communication with Martin. The youngest child, Bob, suddenly loses all feeling and mobility in his legs, causing Stephen and his wife to rush him to the hospital.

With no scientific or realistic explanation, the family is stumped. Martin shows up and asks Stephen for ten minutes of his time. Reluctantly, Stephen agrees. This is where Martin abruptly continues his ominous front. He tells Stephen to choose which of his loved ones to kill. If no decision is made within a timely manner, they will die one by one. First, they will lose function of their legs. Then, they will lose their appetite. Finally, they will begin to bleed from the eyes before their eventual death. Martin delivers this line so simply and so poised that we begin to wonder if he is the Devil incarnate. Martin’s vendetta becomes clear and Stephen’s world gets turned upside down. This is where ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ shoots its cold hearted madness through our soul.

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We watch misfortune strike this family and Stephen almost doesn’t know what to make of it all. Something that Lanthimos nods to is his recent film ‘The Lobster,’ where dialogue and normal human reaction is made to appear desolate. His characters are so very modern but there is a certain way of speech that will transport us deeper into the film, but will also bother us. In many instances, people would not react the way that these characters act. It throws a person off. Farrell and Kidman give exceptional performances that aren’t over the top, but succeed in helping such an eerie script. Beside Lanthimos’ excellent direction, Keoghan as Martin is what terrifies us the most. The young Dublin-born actor makes it seem so effortless in presenting this dead-eyed character. It’s not explained where Martin gains this supernatural power to bestow onto Stephen’s life. Another thing Lanthimos enjoys is presenting an automatic acceptance that this is just how things are. We do not question it and we do not argue. The notion of sacrificial trial, justice, and human nature is all challenged through Martin’s menacing proclamation. ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ looks to rattle us and it does a fine job at it. The first shot we see is a close up of an open heart surgery to the sound of jarring classical opera music. Be careful in choosing to see a film so unconventional and Earth-altering.

The gratification comes to us through its visual nightmare-like world. From slow pans to long wide shots, the minimalist cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis captures the rarity of the film entirely. Lanthimos completely throws us into this very dark and ethereal atmosphere. It can’t be measured just how much discomfort this film will make you feel. The soundtrack itself thickens tension and raises heart rates. Even the melody of the Christmas tune, “Carol of the Bells,” becomes something haunting when we remember what we’re sitting through. Accordionist Janne Rattya lends her horrifying “De Profundis” to the film, which sets the tone of no hope for Stephen’s family. With its devastating Greek tragedy theme, all the components of sound and visuals will meet in the middle where it pains us the most.

Sincerely noted, this film won’t pan too nicely to a lot of people. If you are a fan of psychological thrillers that stop at nothing to wreak havoc, this may be for you. Dark comedy makes a bigger occurrence in the film than one would think. We find ourselves laughing at something (that was probably meant to be taken very seriously in context) and then immediately feeling uneasy again. It’s quite a refreshment, honestly. It makes the film so distinct, just how we like it. If you’re alright with welcoming bizarre behavior, insane metaphors, and uneasy scripts, be my guest. We need more films that aren’t afraid to terrify us in such a way. Yorgos Lanthimos continues to prove himself as an uncanny heavyweight among directors and this film, as strange as it was, serves to break barriers.

‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ does not know forgiveness. It squeezes your senses until you can longer withstand the agony. It surprises you with its antics and decisions. It is heart-wrenching and will not stray away from you. It is certainly a sinister experience that won’t leave your thoughts even days after its viewing. You find yourself leaving the theater puzzled, disgusted, stunned, and most of all, unsettled to the core. Lanthimos gives us one of the most unnerving and masterful pieces of art in recent cinematic times.

Jessica’s Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Eerie First Trailer For A24’s ‘The Killing Of A Sacred Deer’ Is Here!

“A teenager’s attempts to bring a brilliant surgeon into his dysfunctional family take an unexpected turn.”

Directed By: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, and Alicia Silverstone
Release Date: 17th November 2017

 

Dunkirk

Year: 2017
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles, Barry Keoghan

Written by Sarah Buddery

Films directed by renowned British director Christopher Nolan are always something of an event; few and far between but whenever does come along there is always incredible amounts of expectation. Nolan is one of those rare “classic” directors, one who has a love and appreciation for the craft and skill in making a film, and one who can easily stand amongst the all-time greats, despite his relatively small filmography.

The notion of Nolan directing a war film perhaps surprised a few people, and indeed I was one of those people questioning whether it would be Nolan directing a straight-up war film, or whether it would be a “Nolan-ified” war film. The short answer is it is neither of those things and it is wise not to go in expecting a “war” movie as you might imagine one. It isn’t short on action by any stretch, but it is much more of a thriller that just happens to be set during the events of Dunkirk.

It is fairest to describe ‘Dunkirk’ as a “ticking-clock thrilller” – quite literally in fact, as not only do the events seem to occur in real-time, but there is an ever present ticking sound incorporated into the score, serving as an ever present reminder of impending doom and tension.

This film was almost nothing like I was expecting, but was absolutely everything I wanted and so much more! ‘Dunkirk’ has the Nolan stamp all over it, with all the class and finesse that you would expect, but it is boldly and brilliantly different from anything he has done before. ‘Dunkirk’ is a breath-taking, heart-stopping masterclass in nail-biting tension that perfectly balances the action with genuine human emotion. It is a survival story at its core, and just as meticulous, precise and measured as you would expect from Nolan.

Shot on IMAX film, ‘Dunkirk’ is visually stunning to look at, and it is so refreshing to see an action thriller that is genuinely worthy of receiving awards. The cinematography is stunning and the mind-blowing attention to detail ensures that everything looks and feels as accurate as it possibly can. The incredible aerial acrobatics and dogfights were largely done for real, using real planes and with the actors genuinely placed within the cockpit of an aircraft; the result is something which is immersive and heart-stopping in places. So often you can be taken out of the moment because you know it was created on a computer or using a green-screen, and whilst you can be assured Tom Hardy and co were safe throughout, there’s some genuine heart-in-your-mouth moments that are heightened by knowing that they were done for real.

Frequent Nolan collaborator, Hans Zimmer is back with an incredibly emotive and brilliant score. It is so wonderfully woven into the soundscapes of war, incorporating the roars of planes and the tense ticking clock to absolute perfection. The  use of sound in ‘Dunkirk’ is undoubtedly awards worthy, and whilst it might be too early to call, I would be very surprised not to see it up there in the technical categories.

As is so often the case with Nolan films, the score and sound are sometimes a little overwhelming in places which made it a hard to hear the dialogue in places. Whilst it did an excellent job of conveying the chaos and noise of war, it did also make it a little difficult to connect with the characters at times. Whilst the tight run-time (by Nolan standards anyway!) did a great deal to keep it concise and measured, it did also leave a few untied loose ends which some may find frustrating. However, it is still dramatic at every turn, with unbelievable amounts of tension and an unrelenting energy that will leave you breathless.

It is perhaps the nature of the story that it wasn’t about connecting with the characters, more just the various situations occurring simultaneously which does make it difficult to pick a stand-out acting performance. Mark Rylance’s heroic every-man was the easiest to connect with however as he made a daring trip across the sea to save those stranded and surrounded by the enemy. Cillian Murphy’s deliberately un-named and shell-shocked soldier also does an excellent job of conveying the horrors of war and the effect it had on many. Despite it only being one man, the fact is he represents the mental anguish and damaged psyche of millions of people who have been through similar horrors, and it was a surprisingly powerful performance.

‘Dunkirk’ is an utterly stunning film which is as close to a perfect film as you can get. A fair warning if you’re hoping to see this in IMAX; the noise of the bombers and gunfire is absolutely deafening, so whilst it might lead to a loss of hearing, it’ll be more than worth it. Absolutely unmissable.

Sarah’s rating: 10 out of 10