The Killing of a Sacred Deer | Mayhem | Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
At this point, it’s dismissive to consider Yorgos Lanthimos the leader of Greek cinema’s new wave. The Killing of a Sacred Deer — his second Englishlanguage feature and second Colin Farrell collaboration — is so confident, singular and affecting that Lanthimos should be considered a master of modern film, period. Here, Lanthimos once again teams up with screenwriter Efthymis Filippou, who co-wrote his similarly offbeat black comedies Dogtooth, Alps and The Lobster. With The Killing of a Sacred Deer, they reveal that maybe they’ve been writing horror movies all along.
Farrell and Nicole Kidman play Steven and Anna Murphy, a pair of seemingly happy married doctors who live in an enormous house with their two children. In his free time, Steven has developed an unlikely friendship with a young boy named Martin (an arresting Barry Keoghan) whose off-putting mannerisms prove to be an accurate representation of his sinister motives.
Despite Lanthimos’s requirement for us to suspend disbelief, he still lays out his movie’s rules plain and simple — there are no surreal passages left open for interpretation. Instead, Sacred Deer is a gruesome, fucked-up fairy tale that will stick with you for days. The film has a solid plot, but it’s still marked by Lanthimos’s untouchable stylistic flourishes. Shot in Cincinnati, the film’s sickly hospital scenes evoke early Cronenberg, but director of photography Thimios Bakatakis introduces shots you’ve likely never seen before. Handheld cameras follow characters at waist level or hover above like indoor drones. Because it’s a truly unique viewing experience, The Killing of a Sacred Deer fits in well with Lanthimos’s impressive filmography. Still, thanks to its creeping tension, jaw-dropping cinematography and perfect pacing, it just might stand as his best work yet. (Elevation, elevationpictures.com) Mayhem
Directed by Joe Lynch
Mayhem is next in a long line of “virus containment” horror films that amp up the dramatic tension by placing characters in a quarantined zone. However, it features a neat twist: the “ID7” virus isn’t deadly, but it makes people do deadly things. Derek Cho (Stephen Yeun), an embittered executive at corporate law firm Towers & Smyth Consulting, helpfully explains to us that his firm recently defended a man accused of murder while infected with ID7, arguing that the virus renders the victim unable to control their own impulses. Hosts infected with ID7 engage in a kaleidoscope of wildly unrestrained behaviour, like banging each other in public, screaming, setting things on fire and, sometimes, even flatout murder. When Cho is framed and ultimately fired for a costly mistake that could put the firm’s future in jeopardy, he decides to take his case all the way to the top-floor CEOs. Unfortunately, this is precisely when public health officials announce that, ironically, the ID7 virus has infected the entire office building, which must now be quarantined for eight hours. Together with Melanie Cross (Samara Weaving), who is caught up in the quarantine after coming to Towers & Smyth to dispute a foreclosure notice, Cho must fight his way through a final boss-like series of executives and corporate cronies, each more depraved than usual thanks to ID7.
Mayhem takes a while to get going, setting up an elaborate corporate scandal that’s a little too on the nose to be satire. It’s sly enough to keep the momentum going, though; Machiavellian corporate scheming doesn’t really start to feel high-stakes until murder by power tools is involved. To its credit, this premise further sets Mayhem apart from the multitude of other infection movies, juxtaposing the starchy corporate world with the animalistic loss of inhibition and id that comes with the virus. It’s about as subtle as a kick to the gut, but once the movie fully embraces its sense of fun, it’s free to luxuriate in its over-the-top performances, best among them Caroline Chikezie as the masterfully manipulative exec “The Siren.” It all culminates in a gleefully bloody, office-wide brawl that’s lacking in choreography but has manic energy in spades — a fitting coda for a technically imperfect, deliriously frantic film like Mayhem. (RLJ Entertainment, rljentertainment.com) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Directed by Martin McDonagh
Over the past decade, British/Irish playwright-turned-filmmaker Martin McDonagh has shown he can milk levity out of even the darkest subjects with his jet-black crime comedies ( In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths), but he’s outdone himself with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It’s a violent, visceral drama that sets up as a rape revenge thriller, but really acts as a ferocious meditation on police ac- countability, racism, sexism and the patriarchal confines of rural America. Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a grieving mother who, fed up with local law enforcement’s inability to capture the man/men who raped and mutilated her teenage daughter, rents three billboards on the outskirts of her small town. On them she plasters: “Still No Arrests?” “How Come, Chief Willoughby?” and “Raped While Dying.”
That gets the attention of the local media and police force — namely Willoughby ( Woody Harrelson) and Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell). But as we, and Mildred, get to know them, it becomes clear that things aren’t so black and white. That doesn’t stop the town’s frustrations from boiling over, as local businessmen are thrown out of second-storey windows, dentists have their thumbs drilled in and streets are set ablaze. Early on in his film career, McDonagh garnered comparisons to fellow foul-mouthed filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, but Three Billboards is more Coen Brothers, with McDormand as its lead, tense, small-town action similar to Blood Simple, and the ways McDonagh lays out the facts and revels in the onscreen absurdity. By film’s end, not much of a resolution has been made. But if the recent success of movies like Get Out and Oscar-winner Moonlight are any indication, audiences need movies that reflect America’s growing social divide more than ever. Three Billboards doesn’t have all the answers, but it gets the feeling right. (Fox Searchlight)
37 MAYLEE TODD
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI