“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”: “Lobster” director plays again on our unspoken fantasies to build horror

The Killing of a Sacred Deer” opens with a beating heart, encased in a chest cracked open like “The Lobster” (May 22, 2016).  Then we see a surgeon take off his gloves and dispose of them.  We see his sleek hands (a line later used a few times in the script written with Efthymis Flippou), and that at least his forearms are still softly haired, as if the ultimate future of infection control were not yet in place.

I’m introducing the latest quirky horror comedy (or satire) from Yorgos Lanthimos, and it has a plot concept that feints of ephebophilia, and then plays on male fetish obsessions that have been frankly significant in my own life to build a plot and a rather horrific and tragic climax.

The music score, with Schubert, Bach, and especially Lygeti, underlines the urgency for the characters, but maybe it could have added Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (“Songs of the Death of Children”).

Stephen Murphy (Colin Farrell) is the heart surgeon and cardiologist in a Cincinnati hospital. (The city looks sharp in the film, especially in multiple scenes across the Ohio river from Covington, KY.)  In his past, he once lost a patient at age 46 apparently during some routine bypass surgery. That deceased patient’s verbal teenage son, Martin (Barry Keoghan) starts showing up in Murphy’s life, mostly by self-invitation.

Murphy has built an impressive family in his palatial home, with wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and gender fluid son Bob (Sonny Suljic) and teen daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy). At first, the daughter teases Martin about his lack of body hair (some teens would normally have more) and Martin pretends to be ill and shows up at Murphy’s office for a physical. There is a scene with a stress test, with eight leads, where Martin asks what would happen if he were hairy, and Murphy admits he would have to be chest-shaved, and that it could take a little while to grow back.  Murphy even gets into mention of “hormones” (reminding me of my own Ft. Eustis days). Martin even asks to see Murphy’s chest.  There’s also, as I recall, an odd line about replacing a grabby metal wristwatch with leather. Martin acts as if he believed the world had some sort of fascist conspiracy to eliminate less desirable men (like the Nazis did) as if this could be eroticized. For a little while, the film has you wondering if indeed Murphy is falling into an illegal relationship with the teen boy.

But at midpoint, the film takes a surprising twist. Bob, and then Kim, develop a kind of guillain- barre syndrome, with intermittent and then persistent leg paralysis, when medical tests can find nothing wrong. In a particularly arresting scene Martin threatens Murphy by suggesting that he (Martin) is causing the syndrome with some supernatural curse.

I’m not sure that the conclusion, which involves some vengeful violence against Martin and then a lottery to find the “deer” is necessarily all that convincing.  Some critics will say that Stephen gets his wish, to play god again. That’s a problem with setting up an erotic premise like this:  it is hard to find somewhere to go.

Wiki picture of downtown Cincinnati.  My visits: 1992, 2012.

Wiki picture of a Holter Monitor on a young adult male, underscoring Martin’s concerns.

Picture: Mt Vernon, Ohio, 2012, my trip.

Somehow the title and tone of this film reminds me of “The Killing of Sister George” (1968, Palomar, dir. Robert Aldrich, with Beryl Reid.) I;m also reminded of Judd Apatow’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (2005, Universal) with Steve Carell as hapless.

Name: The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Director, writer:  Yorgos Lanthimos, wr with Efthymis Flippou
Released:  2017/10/27
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/10/29 fair crowd
Length:  116
Rating:  R
Companies:  A24, Film4, Hanway
Link:  distributor

(Posted: Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017 at 8:30 PN EDT)

 

“Happy Death Day”: The plot trick is hackneyed

The whole idea of waking up repeatedly to relive the day where you died has been tried before   The film “Source Code” (2011, Duncan Jones) had Jake Gyllenhaal lending his partial body and disembodied brain to possess other people, as a day is replayed repeatedly to prevent a nuclear terror attack on a Chicago commuter train.

The October horror comedy “Happy Death Day”, directed by Christopher Landon and written by Scott Lobdell, has no lofty intentions, although the movie took a lot of effort  and about $5 million to set up. Jessica Rothe plays sorority coed Tree Gelbam at a west coast “Bayview University”, that looks a lot like the campus in “Judas Kiss” (there is even a Harmon Hall, and in fact instant boyfriend Carter Davis (Israel Broussard) is a kindly person who seems like a straight version of “Danny”.  Tree wakes up in Carter’s dorm room after crashing, on her Monday, September 18 birthday, and lives out the day until she is murdered. She wakes up repeatedly out of the dream and gets repeated chances to save her own life, and may others, from a escaped serial killer who puts on a clown mask. (“IT” again.)  A jealous sorority sister fits into the rushed climax.

It may be that for some people death occurs as a nightmare you don’t waked up from.  Things stop working and making sense.  Time slows down (whereas in the film the episodes are telescoped).

“Downsizing”, moving out of an estate house into a smaller condo and parting with some things invokes the idea of entering a kind of epilogue of afterlife.  One of the junk removal people said a neighbor came by and asked if I had passed away.

Universal let its Valkyrie trademark stall twice as it announced the film. Bear McCreary’s orchestral score is scary at times and resembles Shostakovich at others.

Name: “Happy Death Day”
Director, writer:  Christopher Landon, Scott Lobdell
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed: 2017/10/22, Alamo Drafthouse at One Loudoun, VA
Length:  96
Rating:  R
Companies:  Universal
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, October 22,2017 at 7:30 PM EDT)

“Flatliners”: no, this doesn’t tell us what happens after death

I do vaguely remember the 1990 version of “Flatiners”, but I was curious enough to see the 2017 remake by Niles Arden Oplev based on Peter Fliardi’s short story.

I could say Ellen Page (“Juno”) as Courtney can do better than that. As a pesky medical resident, she concocts the idea of breaking into a mysterious equipment room in the basement of a Toronto hospital with her colleagues, doing death penalty drugs (including popofol) to create a near death experience, then recording the brain wave hologram to make a movie of the NDE. She gets gullible colleagues to go along, including the Brit-looking Jamie (James Norton) and Marlo (Nina Dobrev). The dashing Ray (Diego Luna) refuses at first but comes down to save them, and joins the group.

It’s pretty predictable.  The NDE’s are typical enough, but then ghosts from each doctor’s life comes back to haunt each one, based one each one’s karma.  Marlo especially has a problem with falsifying the record of a patient who had died because of her mistake.

The basement reminds me of the secret dorm cellar room at William and Mary in 1961 where freshman tribunal hazings were held.  I skipped out on them, which may have contributed to the anti-gay rumors and my expulsion. In the rituals, supposedly “they” shaved the boys legs in order to convey the idea of sacrificing individuality to join the group (“take one for the team”).  That idea may be more relevant to the afterlife than what happens in this film.

Kiefer Sutherland is strict enough as Dr. Wolfson, who harasses the residents with their daily oral exams. Maybe he can ask them what a Weiss Ring is.  I don’t think Jack Andraka’s medical school will be anything like this.  I’d like to see a movie of “Breakthrough”.

Toronto at night doesn’t seem as effective a backdrop as NYC.

Nathan Barr’s chamber music score is effective, but the piano playing of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” by a ghost is a little trite. A Danzi quartet is also quoted.

Toronto Wiki of “Annex” houses similar to movie.

Name:  “Flatliners”
Director, writer:  Niles Arden Oplev (DGC), Peter Filardi
Released:  2017 (remake of 1990)
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter 2017/9/30, fair crowd
Length:  104
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Sony Columbia Pictures
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017 at 7:45 PM EDT)

“The Ornithologist”: gay outdoor road “horror” film with a clue about resurrection

The Ornithologist” (“O Orintologo”), directed by Brazilian Joao Pedro Rodrigues. Is a gay road spiritual-and-horror (both) movie centered around an appealing outdoorsman who goes on a bizarre, dream-like journey with bizarre and shocking experiences.  Structurally, the film is very similar to each to the last two short stories in my own “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book (that is, “Expedition” and “The Ocelot the Way He Is”).

Fernando (Paul Hamy) is a tall and slender man about 40 observing black stork birds around a river in northern Portugal, probably not too far from the Fatima site, which I visited in April 2001.   He gets cell phone calls reminding him to take his meds (is that Truvalda?) He kayaks alone and has a mishap.  Two pilgrims (for Fatima) from China find him at night, and at first take care of him. They hear weird ritualistic noises in the distance.  Then the story gets weird. The girls tie him up, then let him go, and he finds his stuff has been stolen near the river.  He meets another gay man who calls himself Jesus, who is deaf.  At first they strike a friendship of sorts, but conflict develops and there is an altercation, apparently leading to an accidental stabbing of Jesus.

Fernando’s adventures will take him around people wearing masks with tribal rituals, and finally into a bizarre death experience with his own resurrection.  Is this what can happen when we go?  The movie ends in Padua, Italy with the men in their next lives.  The film makes references to the writings of St Anthony of Padua in the 13th Century.

The film has a lot of nudity and bizarre effects reminding one of David Lynch’s direction of “Twin Peaks”.

The kayaking was spectacular.  Jack Andraka, Stanford student and inventor of a new cancer test, is an avid competitive kayaker.

Padua (wiki)

Fatima basilica (wiki_

The film showed at NY and AFI film festivals.

Name: The Ornithologist
Director, writer:  Joao Pedro Rodrigues
Released:  2017/10/3  DVD availability from Strand
Format:  2.35:1  (in Portuguese, Latin, Chinese with subtitles; much in English also)
When and how viewed:  complimentary screener from Strand
Length:  118
Rating:  NA (would be NC-17; artistic and not pornographic, but intended for adults)
Companies:  Strand Releasing
Link:  official 

(Posted: Wednesday, September 27, 2017, at 1:30 PM EDT)

New Line Cinema’s remake of Stephen King’s “IT”: Clarabelle isn’t nice


I do remember the 1990 TV movie, two episodes, by Tommie Lee Wallace of Stephen King’s “It”, so I wasn’t in that much hurry for the bombastic remake by New Line Cinema and DGC director Andy Muschietti.

The setting is Stephen King’s fictional town of Derry, Maine;  the outdoor town seems were filmed apparently in Bangor (which I visited once in 1974, on the way to Katahdin) or in Ontario.  Apparently, there is some kind of curse that erupts every 27 years that causes middle school kids to see demons, centered around a particular clown, whom I could call Clarabelle from the Howdy Doody Show. But the demon may become real and do real harm

The film opens as Pernnywise (a maturing Bill Skarsgaard) watches his younger brother make a toy boat which he will float in the drains in a thunderstorm.  The kid loses the boat to a sewer, and when he tries to recover it, the clown appears and bites off an arm, before hauling him away.

Kids go missing, but then when more bad stuff happens, it seems as though some of it depends on the viewer.  There’s a scene with a kitchen sink emitting blood that I recall from the TV movie. There is a swimming hole scene, where not all the teens are as lean as Pennywise;  one looks grotesquely obese. There is a town bully, played by Logan Thompson; one wants to see him in a nicer role.

Downtown Bangor, Maine (looks like the movie site), wiki.

I think I heard some piano music by French composer Erik Satie in the score, but I didn’t see it credited.

The 1990 TV film, as I recall, told the base story in flashbacks, as the friends meet again later in life. I think the book is set up that way, as are some of King’s other novels (or other books in the 1970s and 80s like Peter Straub’s “Ghost Story“).

I vaguely remember the 1993 TV film “The Tommyknockers” directed by John Power, on ABC, where a buried UFO turns a whole town into “grays” digging for dolls.

New Line plans a sequel for “It”. The pronoun is gender neutral.

Name:  “It
Director, writer:  Andy Muschietti, Stephen King
Released:  2017 (remake of 1990)
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Ballston Quarter Regal, 2017/9/22, afternoon, fair audience
Length:  135
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  New Line Cinema, Ratpac
Link:  official 

(Posted: Friday, September 22, 2017 at 7:30 PM EDT)

“Mother!”: Darren’s chamber piece on radical hospitality turning into chaos and communism

Mother!” is another dream-like supernatural set piece from Darren Aronofsky (and cinematographer Matthew Libatique). And this time there is a bit of a political warning.

The entire film is set in an octagonal symmetrical house somewhere in Quebec. Javier Bardem plays a poet and writer who has displayed “writer’s block” since he and his wife, Jennifer Lawrence, “lost everything” in a fire.  Well, everything except a remelted glass obelisk that represents all his creative output.  The house has apparently been restored, but it is still creaky and mysterious with supernatural trinkets (and blobs derived from living things) inside.  The couple still has no children, and it’s unclear if they want to.

One night, a stranger (Ed Harris) appears.  He says he is a doctor, despite cigarette smoking. He acts like the house were listed on Airbnb (or maybe Emergency BNB), although there are no computers in the film that I recall.  I think there was cell.  Immediately, he goes into coughing and vomiting spells, and the couple “hosts” him – an example of radical hospitality (and maybe scruffy hospitality, too)  The next morning, “Mother” (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up, with all the presence of a Hitchcock villain.

In time the rest of the family appears, including two younger adult sons, who fight over arcane provisions in a trust.  It seems as if maybe the poet doesn’t own the house at all.  The film starts turning violent, and one of the sons is severely injured.  Then others show up, as if from a Bolshevist revolution.

The guests recede, and the poet and his wife have the house to themselves once again, and this time the woman gets quickly and obviously pregnant.  Then the hordes return, this time with a lot of ideology that sounds like it comes from Marx and Lenin.  A full bacchanale ensues;  one room becomes a disco, some of the floors leak and collapse, and eventually everything gets set on fire and it seems like the baby is to be sacrificed.

All of this, in the end, seems to be a circular, reoccurring plot.  Maybe this is a corner of the afterlife.

The house seems to be able to fix itself, as in the 1976 film “Burnt Offerings”, based on Robert Marasco’s novel.

The soundtrack, in Dolby 7.1, makes a lot of imagined voices and haunting sounds, making the wife especially seem a bit schizophrenic.

Name:  “Mother!”
Director, writer:  Darren Aronofsky
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax VA, 2017/9/18, day, small audience
Length:  118
Rating:  R
Companies:  Protozoa Films, Paramount
Link:  official

(Posted: Monday, September 18, 2017 at 6:45 PM EDT)

“The Dark Tower”: basic Stephen King, and an interesting tour of another planet

I can remember a dream as a child, looking across a nocturnal, oily, desert landscape with a lighthouse in the distance and a command from on high, “Do not go near the Tower of Ned”. Indeed, there is such a tower in my own screenplay “Epiphany”, on Titan, on a methane lake (most of the action happens in a rotating rama colony).

The horror sci-fi film “The Dark Tower”, directed by Nikolaj Arcel, is based on Stephen King’s novel series by that name. Indeed, part of the movie happens on another planet (actually filmed in South Africa), accessible through a portal, largely desert, populated with shanty towns and ruins of pyramid-like structures, leading to a sanctum where the Man in Black Walter O’Dim (Matthew McConaughey, who has a chance to be bad in rather arid fashion) unleashes his minions. He seeks to control an engine of the Universe, the so-called Dark Tower, made to look like Burj Khalifa Dubai, a metaphor for some kind of pulsar emitting rays in straight line fashion. His opponent is Roland Deschain, the Gunslinger (Irdis Elba).

Vox has pointed out that the film adaptation is rather loose (screenplays by Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, and Anders Thomas Jensen as well as the director). I haven’t read the novels, but I remember great characters from other King novels becoming movies, like the “Walkin’ Dude” in “The Stand” as well as films like “Dreamcatcher” and “Storm of the Century” (sold in print as a screenplay, “Give me what I want and I’ll go away”), as well as the book “Cell”.(where technology makes people into monsters).

The star of the movie is the 13-year-old kid Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), who anticipates the Dark Tower rivalry in his dreams, and whose fantasies and writings (he’s written graphic novel) are so shocking that his mother (Katheryn Winnick)l want to send him (from an upper West Side apartment) to therapy upstate (arranged by the villains). Instead, Jake will become almost the next Christ figure.

I saw this film as a break for news coverage about the North Korea nuclear crisis, and just as the movie ended I learned of Mattis’s stark warning backing up Trump’s.  Kim Jong Un is indeed a caricature of the Man in Black.

The music by Junkie XL reminds me of Hans Zimmer.

Vox commentaries (one  two).

South African scenery (wiki).

Burj in Dubai (wiki).

Name:  “The Dark Tower
Director, writer:  Nikolaj Arcel
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/8/9, daytime, moderate audience
Length:  95
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Columbia
Link:  official

 

(Posted: Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017 at 5:45 PM EDT)

“Kidnap”: a rather silly thriller invoking female vigilantism about a dangerous topic

Kidnap”, by Luis Prieto (written by Knate Lee), by its title suggests a very grave topic of something that can be a personal crisis.  If you get kidnapped, others may have to bargain for your life (or for a family member’s or a child).  Ron Howard’s 1996 film “Ransom” with Mel Gibson(Touchstone) is memorable for this. So is the 2009 French film “Rapt” (or “Abduction”) by Lucas Belvaux) dealing with this issue for a business executive.  With family members of intelligence agents, consider Pierre Morel’s “Taken” (2008)

But this new film plays like a combo of near gothic horror and typical crowd-pleasing chase female vigilante movie for the summer.

Halle Berry plays Karla Dawson, a divorced mom in a custody battle, who has a real job as a waitress in New Orleans, and who has little economic leverage to keep the kid. She’s takes her little boy Frankie (Sage Correa) to an amusement park, showing a Fire Ball like the one that broke in Ohio recently. When she gets a cell phone call about custody, she momentarily loses track of her little boy (despite calling him), and the boy is taken.

What follows is rather silly escapism. She loses her phone, and chases after the kidnappers who are in a no-license sedan around the Louisiana I-10 freeway interchanges, which I last visited in 2006.  The police are incompetent, and eventually the film leads us to a climax at the kidnappers’ safe house in the bayou.  The villains are a white couple, (Lew Temple and Chris McGinn) with the woman Margo particularly chilling as a monster.  The race roles are reversed here: the white people are the bad guys.   The scheme first starts out as a way to extort $10000 from a waitress who doesn’t have it (so that makes little sense), unless she could get it from the ex-husband (which means she loses custody and probably visitation).  But at the end we learn there is a sex trafficking ring of young boys deep in the woods.  The film was released (probably coincidentally) the same week that the Senate introduced the SESTA anit-trafficking bill, weakening Section 230 downstream liability protections for Internet providers, so this could have an indirect effect on future “free speech”.

As overwrought as the car chases and other conflict scenes are, they seem to conform to a certain idea in screenwriting aimed at selling movie tickets and achieving popularity:  make the circumstances of the heroine as dire as possible, even with a twist at the very end.  And maintain political correctness at all times, please.

Name:  “Kidnap
Director, writer:  Luis Prieto, Knate Lee
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed: Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/8/4, afternoon, small audience
Length:  94
Rating:  R
Companies:  Aviron, Relativity Media, Rogue, Di Bonaventura
Link:  official

(Posted: Saturday, August 5, 2017 at 11:30 AM EDT)

“The Transfiguration” of a teen who believes he is a vampire

The Transfiguration”, written and directed by Michael O’Shea, is by no means a glorification of an role model person.  It is by no means the return of a youth, now a grown man, in summer shorts at a church service.  It does not happen on a mountaintop.

No, it is an internal fantasy (maybe schizophrenia) of a character Milo (Eric Ruffin) who believes he is a vampire. He seems to have a compulsion to cut or attack people, and then vomit afterwards. He sees a therapist who says she cannot help him anymore.  The therapy scene rather reminded me of James Holmes seeing his therapist before his 2012 rampage in Colorado.

The use of the same first name as provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos seems to be a total coincidence, even if unfortunate and maybe ironic.  The character here is African-American, which seems to have been a casting choice out of desire for casting diversity. Otherwise it might even come across as pandering to racist stereotypes.

Milo deals with a brother who can no longer protect him (no bird, bro) and develops a relationship with another lost soul, Sofie (Chloe Levine), who is white. He lets her crash at his place, as if he had earned enough social capital to offer such informality.

The mid part of the film presents a gang execution shooting of a white teen that is particularly nasty.

The ending is a non-event, but it reminds me of how Nick Fallon went down on “Days of our Lives”.  I thought that real vampires and their “victims” resurrect and live forever.  Remember Neil Jordan’s “Interview with a Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles” (1992, Geffen Pictures, Warner Brothers), based on the book by Ann Rice, with the love story between Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise’s immortal characters (it starts with a trick) and Christian Slater.

The film appears to be shot in Queens in NYC.

When I was as undergraduate at GW in the early 1960s, a friend (and teammate on the chess team) wrote his mandatory freshman English term paper on vampires.

As for the real Milo, I wonder if we will see a documentary film of “Dangerous“.  Maybe I’d be interested.

Name:  “The Transfiguration
Director, writer:  Michael O’Shea
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Complimentary Vimeo screener 2017/8/3; DVD available for sale 2017/8/8
Length:  98
Rating:  R
Companies:  Strand Releasing
Link:  press sheet

(Posted: Friday, August 4, 2017 at 11:30 AM)

“Case 39” is indeed a “Bad Seed”

Case 39”, directed by Christian Alvart and written by Ray Wright (apparently submitted by) turns out to be rather exploitive horror built on mental illness.

In Portland OR, social worker Emily Jenkins (Renee Zellweger) visits the home of misbehaving Lilith (Jodelle ferland) for Child Protective Services, and believes she is abused. In the follow-up, the parents try to lock her into an oven (there is feint scene like that in M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Visit” (2015).  Lilith is taken into protective custody and the parents are sent to mental institutions.  They used to sau “nothing to be ashamed of” in my own NIH days in 1962.

Emily takes care for Lilith and offers to raise her in her own home.  That soon turns catastrophic. It seems that everyone with anything to do with Lilith develops schizophrenia and winds up fighting phantoms.  There is a scene were therapist Doug (Bradley Cooper) believes he is chased by hornets and commits suicide, but not until we see Bradley’s manly chest.

I’m reminded of some other films, like the classic “Lilith” (1964) where a young Warren Beatty is gradually disrobed by an underage mental patient, as well as “The Bad Seed” (1956).  I also recall Michaelangelo Antonioni’s “Zabriske Point”, where Daria Halprin gradually disrobes Mark Frechette.  I saw that film twice, one of the few that I have.

The DVD has extras on the makeup for the horror film, which involved putting gel on the arms of an actress and setting her on fire. (“Turn up the Heat on the Chill Factor”).  Other extras include “Inside the Hornet’s Nest” and “File Under Evil, Inside the 39”.

The film was distributed by Paramount Vantage.  Paramount (like Warner Brothers) abandoned separately branding most of its independent films a few years ago.

Portland OR skyline (Wiki).  Indoor scenes were shot in British Columbia.

Name:  “Case 39
Director, writer:  Christian Alvart (DGC)
Released:  2009
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD, 2017/7/30
Length:  109
Rating:  R
Companies:  Paramount Vantage
Link:  Official

(Posted: Monday, July 31, 2017 at 12:30 AM EDT