A thriller that is an uncomfortable as it is hypnotic.
Yorgos Lanthimos might be the most interesting film director around today, if not the most, he is certainly one of the most. His previous films Dogtooth and Lobster are both unique in their surreal weirdness and power. Now, he has done it again with this one.
A friend of mine compared this film to the works of Michael Haneke, and while I disagree, I think he does capture the melancholic feel of this narrative. We follow Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrel) who has an unexplained relationship with a young man, Martin (Barry Keoghan). How and why the two know each other is slowly given to the audience—Steven’s neglect in surgery caused Martin’s father to die on the operating table. Why the two have this odd relationship is not entirely clear, and is never fully explained.
Martin’s behavior turns from odd (dropping in at Steven’s work unexpected, seemingly a little too clingy, etc.) to downright terrifying. When Steven’s young son Bob (Sunny Suljic) is suddenly paralyzed, Martin informs Steven that this is the day they were both waiting for. Now, Steven must kill a member of his own family or watch them all whither and die. Steven rejects this, but his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) is less opposed to at least investigating the possibility. Especially once their daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) starts showing similar symptoms.
This film is a Greek tragedy—no seriously, it is loosely based upon the Tragedy of Iphigenia. However, it is not a simple layover, but rather a Greek tragedy shown through the strange world of Lanthimos. As with the Lobster, the dialogue is both limitless and seems to have no boundaries, but is oddly indirect as well, which creates an amusing (albeit troubling) set of scenarios.
While Greek tragedies tend to be somewhat predictable, this film embraces these notions rather than rail against them. Instead, we have a film that reinforces the idea that something terrible is going to happen relentlessly. The high-angled shots and numerous corridors make for a film that is both oddly claustrophobic while feeling void-like at the same time. In a rarity, I will compliment a film’s music, as the jagged and sharp sounds increase the tension and inform the viewer that something is inherently wrong with the situation. Increasing these elements is the almost whisper quiet siren in the background of almost every scene with Martin.
Reality is never entirely clear in Lanthimos’ work, but this is the first time he has fully embraced magical realism. Whatever the curse is, or how it came to be is not as important as accepting that it exists. The reasoning behind it does not matter, these questions are a waste of time as Steven must make a crucial decision.
The themes within the film are cruelty and inevitability. As the situation becomes increasingly dire all members of the family debate who should be sacrificed, and I think most of them acted realistically. While there are some shining moments of quirky humor, these ultimately vanish for the latter half of the movie, and we trudge along toward the brutal finale.
It is hard to talk about this film without giving any of the more interesting stuff away. I try to stay spoiler-free, and while some stuff has been given, this is the same stuff one could divine from a synopsis. There are interesting turns here, but none of them are necessarily shocking. I liked this movie, and I think that it forces the audience into an uncomfortable position as we watch the characters listlessly trudge towards the ending we all know is coming. The narrative holds together a bit tighter than the Lobster, but it is also more familiar. I think this one will be hit or miss for a lot of folks. If you want something that is predictable, weird, off-putting, and captivating—all the while being quite disturbed, give it a go. 8.5/10