THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER. On the heels of my uncharacteristically optimistic (surprised myself with that one!) survey of the cinema of 2017 last week ("The Best of 2017," Jan. 4), I can't quite decide if I'm glad I hadn't seen this yet. On one hand, it is certainly one of the most self-assured, fully realized movies of last year; on the other, it's a bleak, desolate, disheartening parable, the true themes of which might require a classroom discussion to really parse.
Yorgos Lanthimos first came to my attention, as to many, with Dogtooth (2009), a cracked family drama cum fairy tale about three siblings whose parents have raised them in the troubling seclusion of the family estate, filtering in outside influence only as they see fit. Their lives are an absurd grotesque, a surrealistic miniaturized totalitarian state where nothing really makes any sense. And that is the thematic space to which Lanthimos and writing partner Efthymis Filippou are drawn, as moths to flame. They create little worlds made of the stuff of our bigger one, and then heighten and exaggerate elements of those worlds to create an off-putting effect of simultaneous familiarity and unrecognizability.
Lanthimos and Filippou enlarged the canvas a little on their next collaboration, The Lobster (2015), imagining a world where single people from The City must take up residence in The Hotel, where, upon failing to find a mate within 45 days, they will be transformed into the animal of their choosing and released into The Woods. The Hotel is, of course, operated with a kind of fascistic dispassion and everyone speaks in a very specific, clipped cadence. Even more so than in Dogtooth, the effect is jarring but also mesmerizing: Lanthimos' strength of vision for the esthetic construction of his movies, his sense of where to put the camera and how to move it through a scene, how to block those scenes and how his actors deliver their lines, is so strong, so evident from the outset, that the weirdness of the created world becomes acceptable. How could it be any other way?
That being said, these movies are likely to alienate as many viewers — more, probably — as they attract. Because even as they address the human experience and love and loyalty and social norms, they do it by putting a heightened reality under a microscope so that the inconsistencies of human reasoning, the innate hypocrisies of our rules and codes, stand out in stark relief. More simply, these movies are frequently, nakedly unpleasant and, if we actually choose to engage with them, will force us to think about them long after they've ended. This may never have been more true than with The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which is, for me, without a doubt one of the finest movies of 2017 and one which I would hesitate to recommend to most.
In a kind-of, sort-of present day Midwestern American city, Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), a successful cardiologist, has befriended a teenage boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan). They meet for lunch and drive down to watch the river and talk. Martin is odd in his affect, to put it mildly, and Steven conceals his relationship with the boy from his colleagues. Eventually, though, he invites Martin to his home to meet the family: wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), also a doctor; daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy); son Bob (Sunny Suljic). Their visitor, with his affable awkwardness, insinuates himself into the family's good graces, with Kim becoming almost immediately infatuated. Soon enough, though, Bob is stricken with a mysterious ailment that tests the bonds of the family while also illuminating the motivation for Martin's closeness to Steven.
One could interpret The Killing of a Sacred Deer as Lanthimos and Filippou's attempt at applying their particular sensibility to a revenge thriller, I suppose. But in the context of their previous collaborations, it seems more like an organic progression. It is, in a way, a step back toward the mundane and everyday from the reality of The Lobster, even as the psychological intensity of its narrative is intensified. And on paper that narrative is a more straightforward and potentially boilerplate one. But it is carried off with such commitment from the cast, with such a strong aesthetic — from the cringe-worthy tracking shots through the corridors of a large hospital, to the despair-inducing planar gray expansiveness of Ohio, to the prickly, rising sounds of the score — that it becomes something entirely its own. It is gorgeous, meticulously crafted and desperately uncomfortable to watch. It's charged with a great many things but hope isn't one of them. (This movie has left town but is available to stream on Amazon.) R. 121m.
—John J. Bennett
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
THE COMMUTER. Maybe Liam Neeson should avoid all transportation. This time he plays a suit drawn into intrigue (secret missions, his family held hostage) by the mysterious Vera Farmiga while riding the train to work. PG13. 104m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS (2002). Hogwarts before Daniel Radcliffe made that weird corpse movie and Emma Watson set out to smash the patriarchy. PG. 161m. BROADWAY.
MARY AND THE WITCH'S FLOWER. A country girl stumbles across a cat, a broomstick and a magical flower that grants her powers in this animated feature directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. PG. 102m. MINOR.
MOLLY'S GAME. Jessica Chastain stars as an Olympic skier turned illegal poker ring entrepreneur who's busted by the FBI. With Idris Elba. R. 140m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE. A Finnish man (Sakari Kuosmanen) who starts a restaurant with his gambling winnings befriends and employs a Syrian refugee (Sherwan Haji) in this comedy/drama from Finland. NR. 100m. MINOR.
PADDINGTON 2. The marmalade-obsessed bear (Ben Whishaw) goes on a hunt for the thief who stole his pop-up book. With Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville and Hugh Grant. PG. 121m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE POST. Meryl Streep stars as Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham with Tom Hanks as editor Ben Bradlee in a Steven Spielberg drama about publishing the leaked Pentagon Papers. PG13. 115m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
THE SACRIFICE (1986). The restored version of Andrei Tartovsky's final film, which focuses on a man and his son on the brink of World War III. PG. 149m. MINOR.
COCO. Young musician Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) goes on a quest to the Land of the Dead to circumvent his family's generations-old ban on music in this Pixar animated feature. With Gael García Bernal. PG. 109m. BROADWAY.
FERDINAND. A domestic bull sent to a farm tries to get home to his family in this animated adventure. Voiced by John Cena, Kate McKinnon and Bobby Cannavale. PG. 106m. BROADWAY.
DARKEST HOUR. Gary Oldman finally gets the role designed for his acting chops (and literal chops), portraying jowly British Prime Minister Winston Churchill as he urges his country to keep a stiff upper lip even as German planes strafe London. PG13. 125m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE DISASTER ARTIST. A good movie about a bad movie (The Room) in which the former gives the latter an empathetic gloss. Starring James Franco. R. 104m. BROADWAY.
THE GREATEST SHOWMAN. A glossy, glitzy musical about a complicated man. Hugh Jackman plays P.T. Barnum, an abolitionist and social reformer who made his money off "freak shows" and minstrelsy. Michelle Williams and Zac Efron also star. Statue of Barnum on the Arcata Plaza unlikely. PG. 105m. BROADWAY.
INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY. The fourth chapter in this horror series with parapsychologist sleuth Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) investigating the scariest thing yet: her childhood. PG-13. 103m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE. A remake of a 1995 Robin Williams vehicle that somehow combines Breakfast Club teen dynamics, body-swap comedies, aggressive hippos and The Rock's skeptical eyebrow? Sure, why not? PG-13. 119m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
PITCH PERFECT 3. Farewell tour for pun-happy franchise whose talented cast (Rebel Wilson, Anna Kendrick) can't seem to synergize plot into satisfying fans. PG13. 94m. BROADWAY.
THE SQUARE. This Palme D'Or winner, a Swedish satire about performance art, should satisfy your need to feel smart, when really we know you're there to watch Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men, The Handmaid's Tale) tear it up, per usual. R. 142m. MINIPLEX
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI. An ambitious, funny installment of the beloved franchise that should satisfy both mega-fans and fair-weather Wookies. PG13. 153m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI. A sterling cast (Woody Harrelson, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Zeljko Ivanek and Peter Dinklage) does admirable work in a drama about a small-town murder but the film unravels in the last act. R. 115m. BROADWAY.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill and Linda Stansberry