‘The Killing Of A Sacred Deer’ Is Absolutely F***king Brilliant [Review]

This is a reprint of our review from the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.

Maybe the second or third shot in Yorgos Lanthimos‘ “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is of a hospital waste bin, over which Colin Farrell, as heart surgeon Steven Murphy, peels off his bloodied latex gloves post-surgery. Now, if you hold simultaneously in your head the established ideas of the surgeon-as-God and the director-as-God, then that suggests the surgeon equates to the director, and gives us a neat metaphor: “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is Lanthimos with the gloves off, and it makes the absurd, amazing “The Lobster” seem like a warm and cuddly experience by comparison. A film of clean hands, cold heart, and near-Satanic horror, it was garlanded with boos at its Cannes press screening and it is absolutely fucking brilliant.

Part of what makes its deep-freeze, suburban soul-sickness so effective is that, although the studied formalism, deterministically stiff performance style and deliberately flat line readings are instantly recognizable Lanthimosian traits, the film is set in a world that’s only a plate-glass sliver of weirdness away from our own. This is not the contained universe of “Dogtooth” (which it most closely resembles in the director’s back catalogue), nor the alternate reality of “The Lobster.” Instead, while Thimios Bakatakis‘ crisp, creeping camerawork and the atonal, anti-melodic sound design from Johnnie Burns (“Under the Skin“) turn the thermostat setting to “ice age,” there’s recognizable real life here: diners, traffic, backyard barbecues, and school principal’s offices. And there is also a house — the big, statement-staircased house of a successful, moneyed professional couple — and a hospital, down whose vanishing-point corridors the camera glides so precisely it’s like the Overlook Hotel had a medical makeover.

Cardiologist Steven Murphy has an opthalmologist wife, Anna, who is played by Nicole Kidman, appropriately bringing the Jonathan Glazer and Stanley Kubrick comparisons to life by delivering an icily immense performance somewhere between her turns in “Birth” and “Eyes Wide Shut.” Steven and Anna have two children, the 14-year-old Kim (Raffey Cassidy) whom we’re flatly informed “started menstruating last week,” and the 12-year-old Bob (Sunny Suljic), whose long hair is a source of irritation to his father. Steven has also secretly been meeting the 16-year-old Martin (Barry Keoghan, remarkable) on an increasingly regular basis: for a time we don’t know why, but we can read the lines of their interactions enough to know that Steven feels an obligation toward him. Martin, who lives with his mother (Alicia Silverstone, so good in her small role), seems to receive Steven’s attentions with humble gratitude.

“Such a nice boy,” confirms Anna after Steven finally introduces Martin to the family. Certainly Kim agrees, responding to Martin’s off-centre sincerity and strangeness the only way a teenage girl knows how: by developing a crush on him. But Martin’s intentions turn out to be less than benign, to put it mildly. And from there, with infinite patience, and terrible, meticulous anti-logic Lanthimos (and regular co-writer Efthimis Fillipou) leads us inexorably to a climax in which, unusually, the absurdity does not take any of the edge off the nastiness. Is this cinema, or is this psyop?

Farrell is again tremendous, having found a rhythm with Lanthimos on “The Lobster” (nobody uses Farrell’s facility with a pregnant pause better) yet bringing, within that same non-naturalistic register, a totally different character to life. But then, all the performances are note-perfect: hard-edged and brittle. And the revelation this time out is definitely Irish actor Keoghan in the film’s most pivotal and complex role. His Martin is both prosaically, banally normal and grandly, ambiguously mystical: a quasi-supernatural entity in sneakers, eating spaghetti.

It’s already divisive, and there’s no chance it will stop being so once it gets out there into the world. For those not on Lanthimos’ wavelength already it might well be unendurable: the drip-feed pacing; the despairing underlying view of humanity’s basic selfishness, even when it comes to their own kin; the cold-blooded emotionlessness. But for Lanthimos fans, it might just be the purest, and most dangerous hit of our favorite drug yet, with layers of potential dark significance and meta-meaning to almost every moment, from the dissociated kink of the sex scenes to the very “Dogtooth”-y evocation of the family unit as a kind of charismatic cult.

As many readings as there are, the dissonance between the cerebral and the visceral is an ongoing throughline, as it must be in any film that features someone biting a chunk out of their own arm and spitting it out, saying “It’s a metaphor!” But even as an experiment in the body/mind disconnect, it has a frighteningly caustic morality to it: buried under all that glacial ice there’s a withering portrait of suburban alienation and the surface-level equanimity of privilege. As atomized and insulated as we might think ourselves, the film seems to be saying, our actions have effects, our lives and choices can collide with those of others, and some invisible greater balance can be upset. The uncanniness of “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is simply what happens when this beyond-our-ken tally of cosmic justice is made visible, given form; when it shows up at your door with a bunch of flowers and you invite it in, with all its attendant annihilation. [A]

Julia Teti

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David Fincher is a notoriously meticulous filmmaker. Detail-oriented to the point of obsession, his directorial style hovers on the cusp of perfection. Fincher’s films are often identifiable in their subject matter, tonality, and color palate. But a recent video essay from The Nerdwriter pulls back the veil on the director’s methodological madness to reveal something we were too busy watching to even notice.

Watching a film is relatively demanding, sitting for over an hour and a half fully immersed in images on a screen. We don’t often think about what we’re seeing exactly, beyond just processing it. With Fincher’s direction, however, he uses subtle and timed camera movements so that we follow characters as they move or react, a mirroring of image and action. Fincher captures with a tweak of the camera that a character is astonished, perturbed, or lost. This work raises the stakes for audience investment in the character we are watching, and the filmmaker does this without us even knowing.

David Fincher owes some of this credit to the work of cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, with whom Fincher has worked on “Fight Club,” “Gone Girl,” “The Social Network,” and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Cronenweth’s work with Fincher has laid bare a style and image we think of when we think David Fincher. But beyond the masterful work of Cronenweth, these camera movements are much more than thought out rehearsals and are not exclusive to their brilliant work together. All of Fincher’s work has this specific style of following and mimicking characters. Often described as a cold filmmaker, the video essay extrapolates on the idea that perhaps it is the camera movements that add to our connections with characters. Using the basic tilt, pan, and tracking movements, Fincher’s cinematography takes these essentials and makes them his own tools to be manipulated and used in his own fashion.

Fincher’s latest project “Mindhunter” is not exempt from this style. With the first season on Netflix, we will be revisiting the FBI by way of the director’s immersive, pedantic style.

Edward Davis

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Hitting the open road has long been one the great American pastimes, but in Lauren Wolkstein and Christopher Radcliff‘s “The Strange Ones,” it’s the setting for some crackling tension. And today we have the exclusive trailer for the film.

Starring Alex Pettyfer, James Freedson-Jackson (who won Special Jury Recognition for Breakthrough Performance at this year’s SXSW Film Festival), Emily Althaus, and Gene Jones, the story follows two people traveling across the country, but the facade of normalcy hides something darker. Here’s the official synopsis:

Mysterious events surround two travelers as they make their way across a remote American landscape. On the surface all seems normal, but what appears to be a simple vacation soon gives way to a dark and complex web of secrets.

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‘Call Me By Your Name’ Soundtrack Features Sufjan Stevens, The Psychedelic Furs, More

By now you’ve seen the .gif that’s gone ’round the world (or at least, around the internet) of Armie Hammer deliciously dancing in “Call Me By Your Name.” The clip it’s derived from spawned a number of mashups and parodies, and even a (now suspended) Twitter account. What you might not know is that the song that sees Hammer go free is “Love My Way” by The Psychedelic Furs, and the rest of the soundtrack is even better.

Luca Gudagnino‘s tale of lush and literate summer love and first romance moves in a few different musical directions, but two new songs by Sufjan Stevens — “Mysteries Of Love” and “Visions Of Gideon” — are the heart and soul of the movie. Elsewhere, the soundtrack runs from Europop to classical, and it’s very tastefully employed, becomes part of the fabric of this unstoppably gorgeous film.

The soundtrack will be released on November 17th by Sony Classical, and the film opens in limited release on November 24th. [Film Music Reporter]

“Call Me By Your Name” Soundtrack Tracklisting

1. Hallelujah Junction – 1st Movement – John Adams

2. M.A.Y. in the Backyard – Ryuichi Sakamoto

3. J’adore Venise – Loredana Bertè

4. Paris latino – Bandolero

5. Sonatine bureaucratique – Frank Glazer

6. Zion hört die Wächter singen (From “Cantata Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme”, BWV 140) – Alessio Bax

7. Lady Lady Lady – Giorgio Moroder & Joe Esposito

8. Une barque sur l’océan from Miroirs – Andre Laplante

9. Futile Devices (Doveman Remix) – Sufjan Stevens

10. Germination – Ryuichi Sakamoto

11. Words – F.R. David

12. È la vita – Marco Armani

13. Mystery of Love – Sufjan Stevens

14. Radio Varsavia – Franco Battiato

15. Love My Way – The Psychedelic Furs

16. Le jardin féerique from Ma mère l’Oye – Valeria Szervánszky & Ronald Cavaye

17. Visions of Gideon – Sufjan Stevens

‘Call Me By Your Name,’ ‘Disaster Artist’ And ‘Hostiles’ are the 2017 AFI Fest Galas

AFI Fest is less than three weeks away and today the annual awards season event revealed its three centerpiece galas. To say it’s looking like a stranger than usual AFI Fest is sort of an understatement.

As previously announced, Dee Rees’ “Mudbound” will open the festival on Thursday, Nov. 9. It’s the first opening night film that’s not a world premiere in at least five years. The closing night film is Ridley Scott’s “All The Money In The World” which will have its world premiere on Nov.

The galas begin on Friday, Nov. 10 when Luca Guadagnino‘s celebrated “Call Me By Your Name” has its official Los Angeles debut. That Sony Classics release was expected to be part of the gala slate, the following two galas were not.

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“Hostiles” will hope for better luck the third time around in order to bolster hopes for star Christian Bale in the Best Actor category while “Disaster Artist” fights for an Adapted Screenplay nod and Best Actor recognition for Franco.

A number of films skipped the opportunity to have a gala this year including “Darkest Hour,” “Wonder Wheel,” “Molly’s Game,” “Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool,” “Coco,” “I, Tonya,” “The Shape of Water,” “The Post” and “Phantom Thread” although, in theory, the later two could “sneak” during the festival. It’s also possible some of those films will just have regular screenings instead of galas, but it seems unlikely. AFI’s Nov. 9th kick-off means that potential players such as “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “Lady Bird,” “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” or “Last Flag Flying” were already in theaters by the time the festival begins or opening that same weekend.

The festival also announced that a tribute will be held for documentary filmmaker Errol Morris centered around his latest endeavor, “Wormwood.”

AFI Fest 2017 runs from Nov. 9-16.

Gregory Ellwood

Miles Teller Returns To Real Life With ‘Only The Brave’ And ‘Thank You For Your Service’

It’s hard to believe it’s only been three years since Miles Teller starred in a Best Picture nominee. From the great heights of “Whiplash” came a startling crash as a year later “Fantastic Four” became something of an albatross around his neck. His co-stars in that misfire seem to be doing O.K., though. Michael B. Jordan rebounded with the monster hit “Creed” and has the upcoming “Black Panther” on deck. Beyond their personal relationship, Kate Mara had “The Martian” and the indie hit “Megan Leavey” while Jamie Bell finally escaped the forgettable AMC series “Turn” this year while earning some of the best notices of his career for “Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool” last month. Teller? Slightly different story.

The now 30-year-old actor earned fine notices in 2016 for “War Dogs” and “Bleed For This,” but both were financial disappointments. Now Teller has two films debuting within two weeks of each other that feature, arguably, his quietest and grounded performances since “Whiplash” or “The Spectacular Now.” They may not be blockbusters, but when you see them you’ll recognize a Teller you haven’t seen in awhile.

In Joseph Kosinski’s already underappreciated “Only the Brave,” Teller plays Brendan “Donut” McDonough, a real life firefighter whose second shot at life blossomed when he became a member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an Arizona firefighting brigade. Jason Hall’s “Thank You For Your Service” is based on the non-fiction book of the same title by David Finkel and finds Teller playing Adam Schumann, an Army Sergeant who, along with his fellow soldiers, finds it difficult to readjust to the everyday after two deployments in Iraq.

Last weekend Teller sat down to chat about the importance of both films in his life, the difficulty (or not-so) of crying on cue, screening “Thank You” for Veterans Administration Secretary David Shulkin, working with Nicolas Winding Refn and more.

Please note: There are some minor spoilers based on the historical facts of both films discussed during this interview.


Gregory Ellwood: Congrats on both your movies.

Miles Teller: Thanks, man.

Both films are coincidentally about real, modern-day people dealing with incredibly dramatic events in their lives. How did they end up being back to back projects?

So, I was attached to “Thank You for Your Service” and I was, I think, maybe about two weeks away from heading to Atlanta to do the boot camp. And that’s when I got sent “Only the Brave” and I met with Joe Kosinski right before I left and I was like, “Man, this is a great project. And when are you starting?” And he’s like, “Oh, we’re starting here.” And I’m like, “Oh, my God. It’s like a month after I get off ‘Service.’” I knew the toll that this was gonna take on me, but look, I guess that’s a good problem to have. It’s not ideal to do them [both] in that short a period, for that transition to be that short. But, I just felt really strongly about both these characters so I made it work.

You said you were attached to “Thank You.” Were you a part of it for a while? Were you trying to help get it off the ground?

No, I wasn’t involved that early, but I know that I was the guy that [Jason] had in mind for it. I was helping him read with some of the other actors to figure out the other characters and stuff and I was able to kinda get into that mindset.

In terms of “Thank You” what about the project made you want to commit to it? And what about the story was so compelling?

A lot of these films aren’t being in made in terms of movies that are actually about our countrymen and these guys who are doing these jobs. And a lot of my buddies are in the military. I have so much respect for the military and I think, yeah, look, what actor doesn’t wanna be smoking a cigarette, tattooed up, over there in Vietnam and all that shit? But, this is important subject matter and I just really felt for Adam. The script did such a good job and the book [as well in] depicting what life is like when they get off the plane and they get back home. I don’t know, I just really felt for him. I just had a lot of empathy for him and to experience all that and to then, just kinda come back home and be left with very minimal resources to deal with it, I just felt for that struggle.

When you met with the real Adam was there one thing in particular that you took away from meeting him before you shot the film?

Well, it’s interesting ’cause I met Adam obviously a couple years removed from the experiences that we were recreating. There’s many different versions of Adam. There’s the Adam who was over there in combat. There was the Adam before he went to war. Then, there’s kind of the post war Adam and the post traumatic stress version of Adam and that’s what these guys struggle with, is that sense of self and that figuring out what that identity is once they’re not wearing the uniform and once they get home. So, I don’t know, I just kinda took it all in. But, Adam’s a really incredible guy and it’s a daily kind of struggle for a lot of them, but it’s been nice to see with Adam even from when I first met him two years ago how much he’s kind of changed a little bit.

Was there anything he specifically asked that you depicted? He’s like, “Hey, when you do this, can you make sure that you reflect this? Or make sure that the relationship with my wife is some way?”

I remember the day, there’s a scene where Adam drops his kid and that [eventually transitioned to] him putting a gun his mouth. This film doesn’t pull any punches and I think that it’s a very honest film. I would just text him like, “Hey, man, I got that scene today, dropping your kid and whatever.” And he just said, “Dude,” he said, “You need to lose it, then,” he said, “‘Cause that was probably one of the worst days of my life,” he said, “I was an absolute wreck,” he said, “So, get them tears flowing, dude.”


I fees what like it’s always a cliché where press or fans assume it’s so difficult for an actor to get to that point where they cry on camera. And I’m sure for some actors it is hard and for some isn’t, but in both this and “Only the Brave” you have two of the most emotional key scenes in the film. The one you just talked about with the gun and then in “Only the Brave” when Brendan finds out what happens to his fellow firefighters. How do you get there? Is that a stupid question to ask?

Yeah, I mean, I never gave a shit about [whether I] need to cry to validate a performance. Honestly, I think it’s tough to watch someone trying not to cry, you know what I mean? But, I think that if you’re actually able to put yourself in these guys’ shoes and you’re not moved by it, then you’re probably not working on the right project. I just really felt I had a lot invested in these characters, I just really felt for them. And so, I was able to kinda put myself in their shoes a little bit and so, yeah, I don’t know, for me, I just have a lot of empathy for these characters that I’ve played.

Let’s talk about those two scenes in particular. When you’re shooting that moment in “Thank You” it’s set up as a long take and you’re in a truck with a gun. Was Jason just like, “Just go ahead. We’re gonna run it. We’re gonna let it go”? Do you remember what the idea was behind the extended take?

I don’t know if I knew it at the time. But, I knew it was gonna be a “push in” technically. I was aware of the shot and yeah, and it’s a pretty long sequence. I remember on the day just really trying to fill my head with as many thoughts as I could ’cause, to me, that’s[what I need]. It’s really tough and, as an audience, you don’t wanna watch someone acting that shit. That would be brutal. So, you just try and make it as honest as possible and feel like it’s just you and make it really personal.

The contrast is in “Only the Brave” where Joseph does almost the opposite of Jason. He pulls away when your character finds out.

I was very frustrated on that because that was just a very technical shot. I had to come in and I had to hit this mark and then, the camera was just right in my face. So, I couldn’t even look around to the people. I’m just looking at a fucking camera, like a camera box, and I couldn’t see anybody and I just felt like I was being dishonest and I actually went outside after a take or two and I just felt foolish. I felt like I was acting this moment. I felt like I had lost. I couldn’t even look at people, so that was a very technical shot. So, to marry kind of honest emotion with something technical was just tough for me, but Joe was like, “Trust me, we got it.”

I think there’s just different ways of doing it and I thought it was still powerful in that respect. But, clearly, it was such a different concept on the moment.

Yeah, it’s a totally different experience, yeah. You can’t be unaware of, we’re making a film. This is not real life when that camera’s right in your face.