“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”

Like the best psycho thrillers, The Killing of a Sacred Deer has a cautionary message for its viewers. In this case, take responsibility for your actions.

Successful cardiologist Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) acts as a mentor to a deceased patient’s teenaged son Martin (Barry Keoghan). They seem to get along well as Steven gives Martin expensive presents and invites him over for dinner. The pleasantry is short-lived when Martin reveals he holds Steven responsible for his father’s death. Then things escalate to a nightmarish level when Martin unveils his sinister agenda involving Steven’s family.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer peeked my interest during this year’s Cannes Film Festival. With it being a psychological horror film that was both praised and booed, I couldn’t ignore it. If I saw this film in Cannes, I would be on the praising side of the auditorium; The Killing of a Sacred Deer is an allegorical masterpiece.

Writer/director Yorgos Lathimos (last year’s overrated The Lobster) has learned from his past mistakes. In Sacred Deer, Lathimos doesn’t lose focus or his visceral impact. Lathimos makes the film’s 121-minute running time feel like a nightmarish eternity of suffering with his slow pace, long takes, morbid humor, disturbing violence, and moral ambiguity.

There isn’t a single character you can call a good person. Every character is immoral, deranged, cold, sociopathic, nihilistic, and devious. Farrell excels as Steven, selling this ordinary doctor as a two-faced scumbag. I’ll argue Steven is more a villain than Martin since Steven takes no responsibility for his actions and blames everyone for his mistakes. “An anesthesiologist can kill a patient, but a surgeon never can,” is the line that defines Steven.

Keoghan shines as Martin. He seems like a friendly-albeit-awkward kid when he gives Martin’s children Bob (Sunny Suljic) and Kim (Raffey Cassidy) presents. When Martin monologues what will happen to Bob and Kim if Martin doesn’t make a certain sacrifice, we quickly see that Martin is a young sociopath in the making. “It’s the only thing I can think of that is close to justice,” Martin says self-righteously.

It’s clear that Steven doesn’t want to befriend Martin, but he feels obligated. He also treats Martin kinder than his own son (Steven threatens to feed his son his hair in one scene). Is this because he feels guilty? Martin seems disinterested in harming Steven’s family (Martin doesn’t physically hurt anyone) and also wants Martin to be his stepdad. Would he have given Steven a pass if Steven spent more time with him?

The supporting cast are all convincing as eccentric and creepy characters. Nicole Kidman is excellent as Martin’s cold wife who clearly loves Bob more than Kim. Alicia Silverstone appears in only five minutes of screen time as Martin’s lonely and sexually aggressive mother who’s obsessed with Steven’s hands; she steals this scene from her costars.

Sacred Deer may sound like a familiar psycho thriller, but I assure you it’s not, thanks to Lathimos’ fascination with Greek Mythology and his ambition. The title is a reference to the Iphigenia myth, which tells a similar story of sacrifice and dilemmas.

This isn’t a film for the squeamish; between the film featuring a real-life heart surgery and children bleeding from their eyeballs, it’s made some viewers faint or vomit. For the transgressive film lovers who love Kubrick and avant-garde, this one’s for you.

Grade: A

Advertisements

“Mother!”

The brilliant Darren Aronofsky is obsessed with three topics: religion, obsession, and surrealism. Mother! is a psychotic depiction of the three.

An unnamed couple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem) live in a countryside rustic mansion. She’s obsessed with remodeling the home while he’s obsessed with overcoming writer’s block. When a series of uninvited guests including a dying man (Ed Harris), his alcoholic wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), their dysfunctional sons (real-life siblings Domhnall and Brian Gleeson), and an unhinged publicist (Kristen Wiig) disrupt their paradise, things escalate to pure insanity.

Mother! is already the year’s most controversial film due to its metaphorical screenplay and gruesome finale. Kudos to Aronofsky for not caring if we love or hate this polarizing film.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Mother! is a surreal commentary on religion and the environment; Lawrence is Mother Nature focused on her paradise while Bardem is God writing a biblical novel. When Bardem’s following disrupts and wrecks their home, Lawrence’s character grows increasingly unstable, symbolizing a disaster.

The film is full of allegories and and the final thirty minutes covers the fall of man and christening of Jesus. If you thought Aronofsky couldn’t top the amputation and “ass-to-ass” sequences in Requiem for a Dream or the transformation sequence in Black Swan, guess again! The climax features burglaries, an orgy, a rave, an armed raid, and the most disturbing cannibalism act put on film. It’s a visceral finale that left me exhausted and nauseous.

As ambitious and transgressive as Mother! is, I wasn’t completely blown away since it’s similar to Aronofsky’s previous works. Lawrence’s character is both insecure and obsessive like Natalie Portman’s Nina in Black Swan. Unlike Black Swan, our Mother! protagonist doesn’t have depth or growth. I felt tired of watching her trying to please everyone and yelling over the destruction of her home.

Bardem, Pfeiffer, and Wiig all have the best on-screen moments. Bardem is charismatic and devilish as our unnamed poet; he’s possibly the film’s most tragic character. Pfeiffer delivers a potential career-reviving performance as a guest that doesn’t understand boundaries. She’s funny, invasive, and slightly terrifying. Wiig only has a few minutes of on-screen time, but shows great range in such little time. She’s funny, quirky, deranged, and homicidal; I hope Wiig gets more horror roles.

I recommend Mother! to the arthouse film lovers and Aronofsky fans. Those expecting a traditional horror film will be disappointed since Mother! is not that at all. Those who are easily squeamish, you better stay away from this one.

Grade: B+

Top 10 Horror movies of the 2010’s (So Far)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Halloween’s here! Well, almost here. Every October, I like to take some time to talk about horror movies or Halloween-themed movies. This year, I decided to discuss my top 10 favorite horror movies I’ve seen since 2010. This has been a great decade and for me, it revived the horror genre.

The 2000’s seemed obsessed with torture porn, zombies, and found footage. Granted, we’re still stuck with a myriad of found footage movies, but we’ve also seen several cool aesthetics I hope to see more of. Horror movies are relying less on cheap scares and gore and more on psychological terror. We now have directors who are paying homage and splicing the genre with other genres.

Enough babbling, let’s get down to it!

10) V/H/S 2 (2013) – Yeah, I bashed a little on found footage and have a found footage movie on here, so what? Unlike its predecessor, V/H/S 2 has segments that flow better and each one increases its scares and visceral impact. The most standout segment is one where a guy films his bike ride on a GoPro, is attacked by a zombie, then we see his zombie rampage through the GoPro POV. If you’re going to make a found footage movie, take a some notes here.

9) Green Room (2016) – Those who follow my reviews and know me personally have heard me rave about this white-knuckle punk siege movie. It’s more of a realistic horror move, depicting just how potentially vicious, albeit incompetent someone might get in a fight-or-flight situation. And that’s all I’ll say since this might make my top 10 at the end of the year.

8) I Saw the Devil (2011) – It’s a Korean  revenge horror film about a spy versus a serial killer. With an insane body count, some memorably gruesome moments, and a surprisingly powerful story, I Saw the Devil is one of the more character-driven horror films in recent memory.

7) The Conjuring (2013) – I hate movies that pull the “Based on a True Story” card, but leave it to a horror geek like James Wan to win me over. This is a rare horror film that focuses more on suspense than cliches. What I like the most about The Conjuring is that it’s part horror film, part family drama. We spend time with the Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) and see they’re a lovable couple, and maybe the first to make exorcisms look romantic (jokingly speaking).

6) ParaNorman (2012) – An animated horror film that’s a tribute to the 70s and 80s horror era, ParaNorman also features an investing Sixth Sense-style story. It’s an animated horror film that’s more for kids, ages 12 and up, but that’s okay. Horror can be for all ages if executed accordingly.

5) Oculus (2014) – Like The Conjuring, Oculus derives away from horror movie cliches. Director Mike Flanagan uses editing to trick the viewer into feeling like they’re hallucinating, like the main characters. It’s a disturbing movie about a pair of siblings trying to prove that a possessed mirror killed their parents, but the most frightening aspect is its ambiguous ending.

4) It Follows (2015) – How scary would it be if you contracted an STD in the form of a ghost that stalks you until it kills you? It Follows answers that question. It’s a blend of arthouse filmmaking and a John Carpenter tribute that had me looking over my shoulder repeatedly after seeing it.

3) The Cabin in the Woods (2012) – Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard delivered one of the funniest, bloodiest, craziest, and most twisted horror movies I’d seen in years. I watched this on Netflix after avoiding it and was blown away. I don’t want to say much for those who haven’t seen it, so just watch it!

2) The Babadook (2014) – The Babadook is a horror film that still gives me nightmares to this day. It’s an unsettling psychological study about a mentally unstable widow and her equally unstable son, and whether or not you believe the Babadook is real or imaginary, that’s part of the fun. Kudos to first-time director Jennifer Kent for using a minimum budget to design one of the creepiest creatures to date.

1) The Guest (2014) – Not many people have seen or even heard of Adam Wingard’s underrated gem. It’s an odd combination of 80’s slasher movies and action movies, making Rambo look like Michael Myers. It focuses on a soldier named David who befriends a family. He begins helping them make their life better, but once they realize he’s a supersoldier, the body count increases. It’s more thriller than horror, but its style and pacing qualify it as a brilliant horror homage.

Those are my favorite horror movies of this decade. Do you agree?

“The Boy”

I rarely see January-horror flicks because well… January flicks are usually terrible. “The Boy” is that kind of terrible that’s almost worth recommending.

In a formulaic intro, we meet Greta (Lauren Cohan), who’s hiding in London from an abusive ex-boyfriend; she takes a nanny gig at a creepy old mansion reminiscent of the one in “Crimson Peak”. It gets better – she’s babysitting a doll named Brahms! Greta ignores the basic rules she’s supposed to follow with Brahms and soon learns the hard way that Brahms might be alive.

Cool horror premise, right? Sure. The premise in “The Boy” is like something you’d read in a gothic mystery novel, but it’s executed like a teen soap opera. It’s still entertaining nonetheless.

Director William Brent Bell (2012’s god-awful “The Devil Inside”) has an eye for suspense. Horror movies are craftiest with editing and “The Boy” is a fine example here. Cuts between characters walking in creepy hallways to close-ups of the terrifying Brahms doll sent shivers down my spine at times.

The first act is a cliched horror movie opening with us meeting the quirky protagonist, tense parents, characters breaking rules we know they shouldn’t, and a couple of nightmare sequences, but the second act is the strongest segment in the movie.

SPOILER ALERT (Eh, sort of)

When Greta grows attached to Brahms and pays more attention to him for personal reasons than the handsome grocery boy (Rupert Evans) adds a mild psychological-driven tone to “The Boy”, but this is sadly a bit short lived.

The final act is ridiculous with confrontations between the protagonists, the ex, and BRAHMS! There are also twists and revelations that are compelling upon first viewing, but don’t make a whole lot of sense after digesting the movie.

“The Boy” is a better January-horror movie than “The Devil Inside”, “My Bloody Valentine 3D” (2009), “Daybreakers” (2010), and many more titles I forgot, but the third act could have been as fleshed out and compelling as the second act.

Grade: C+

“Goodnight Mommy”

Goodnight MommyBeginning the psychological horror film “Goodnight Mommy” with a loving mother figure on television singing “Lullaby and Goodnight” launches it off to a very eerie first act. Between that, the cockroaches, and an improvised crossbow, we might have confused this for an Austrian sequel to “The Babadook!”

“Goodnight Mommy” follows twin brothers, Elias and Lukas in their isolated lakeside home. They’re each other’s only friends as they explore through caves, play Marco Polo, and have burping contests. After their mom returns home from plastic surgery and grows harsh and reclusive, they wonder, “Who the hell is this woman?!”

I was happy to find “Goodnight Mommy” in a theater near my house since it seemed impossible to find, and I loved how the beautiful and surreal imagery got under my skin at times (this film has the most unforgettable boxcutter scene). The first half hour is truly suspenseful and unnerving as we wonder why the mother is so cruel to Lukas and Elias, and why she is becomes abruptly abusive. Is it an imposter? Is it attributed to trauma from surgery?

SPOILER ALERT – DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THIS MOVIE!

Once the 45-minute mark hits, the film transitions into a torture-based thriller and the suspense is swapped for disgust. It’s hard to root for kids who use dental floss and a magnifying glass as a means of interrogation. We also get a very funny (though out of place) scene involving Red Cross workers collecting donations from the boys.

A redeemable quality of the second act is we get the impression that Elias is the angel going along with the devilish Lukas’s plan for revenge. Elias is conflicted in torturing their “mom” while she and Lukas nearly battle for influence over him.

The final act of “Goodnight Mommy” becomes tragic and slightly predictable when we learn the main twist behind Lukas and the mother, but forgivable due to a wonderfully nightmarish closing shot of the family reunited.

I would recommend “Goodnight Mommy” to horror fans and David Lynch enthusiasts (a lot of “Eraserhead” vibes here), and while I’m disappointed in the second act, I know I’m going to re-watch it for more answers and analysis like I did with “Enemy” and “The Babadook”.

Grade: B (for now)