Twisted? Maybe. Bleak? Definitely. Director Yorgos Lanthimos is back with another off-kilter drama
YORGOS LANTHIMOS KNOWS his work is divisive but he doesn’t quite know why. When The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, the Greek director’s first film since his uncategorisably strange English-language debut The Lobster, debuted at Cannes it was met with both applause (and a Best Screenplay award) and boos. In the reviews, rapturous comparisons to Kubrick and Haneke rubbed up against accusations of sadism.
“I’m always surprised when people are scandalised and shocked by things that we’ve been dealing with since the beginning of time,” Lanthimos says amiably, scratching his beard. “We live in a time when there’s a lot of conservatism around.”
His first American production is a terrifying, enigmatic psychological thriller with ancient resonances. It began as the story of a troubled teenager who takes revenge on a wealthy surgeon, played by The Lobster’s Colin Farrell. Lanthimos and his regular co-writer Efthymis Filippou took inspiration from the Greek tragedy of Iphigenia, sacrificed by her father Agamemnon to appease Artemis after he accidentally killed one of the goddess’ sacred deer. “I don’t know if it’s a tragedy in a strict sense of the form,” he says. “But the way we use the word today? I guess it’s a tragedy.”
In other hands, the revenge plot might lead to a standard cuckoo-in-the-nest thriller, but every component of Lanthimos’ unmistakeable style — the deadpan line readings, the unsettling use of music, the mysterious elisions in the plot — is designed to create ambiguity. “I make films in the way that I like to see films,” he says. “I never like it when things are presented as black and white: this is good, this is bad.
I don’t want to be considered an idiot and told what is what. I want to be intrigued.”
When discussing his work, his favourite word is “different”.
Lanthimos’ reputation attracts big-name talent. Nicole Kidman and Alicia Silverstone star alongside Farrell, while his Queen Anneera period drama The Favourite, currently in post-production, features Emma Stone, Olivia Colman and Rachel Weisz. Actors are already attuned to his unique tone and, he says, they have a good time. Even a film as nerve-wracking to watch as The Killing Of A Sacred Deer was enjoyable to make. “It’s basically a comedy when you observe it from afar: all these grown-ups doing weird things,” he says. “It is fun. If the stress of trying to get things done wasn’t there,
I’d be having fun as well.”
Above: The Beguiled co-stars Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell reunite. Here: Director Yorgos Lanthimos on set.