“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)

 

“A Ghost Story”: what to expect during your own “life review” when you pass away

Richard Lowery’s new little “horror” film and Sundance hit, “A Ghost Story”, does indeed provide an interesting theory about the afterlife.  In a sense, heaven is for real, and not just in the Christian sense.

The basic idea here is that C (Casey Affleck, covered in an inexpensive bedsheet as a prop, right out of the morgue) goes through a “life review” (the Monroe Institute talks about this) first, experiencing his widow’s (Rooney Mara) grief as he mopes in their rented house in exurban Dallas.  But, since they weren’t together long enough to have kids, he has to find some other chains of “space-time boxes” to connect his own lifeline to.  These tesseracts are connected to the rural house itself, it’s history (back to the days of the pioneers and Indian attack) to the future, when the house is torn down and replaced by commercial real estate as the Dallas area keeps expanding.  The same fate as the gay club Town DC a year from now.

The film has a bare-bones look in the beginning, shot 1.37:1, to create the feel of old movies (though in color) and enable closeups, At a critical point in the screenplay, twenty minutes into the film, we see the aftermath of C’s fatal car wreck in front of his house (he was T-boned getting out of his driveway, but we don’t see the accident in motion).   But toward the end, as M does his time travel, the visuals get quite impressive.

There are some other social gatherings, as the Hispanic family that rents the house after M leaves, and the kids play with Brio toys – and people try the out-of-tune piano that never leaves the house (right out of Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck”).  Then there is a pot party with some other people, where Prognosticator (Will Oldham) gives a monologue on whether consciousness lives forever through music – using Beethoven’s Ninth as an example.  I thought he could try the completed Bruckner Ninth as an example (Dec 3 posting).

I thought particularly about Casey Affleck’s earlier tragic film “Gerry” (2002) , Gus Van Sant’s film where he and a friend played by Matt Damon face loss in the Mojave Desert.

Also, I remember Peter Straub’s mammoth 70s novel “Ghost Story”, with its long middle section about Anna Mobley, and the character Stringer Dedham, who didn’t die when the “life ran out of him”.  The movie (1981, John Irwin) was underwhelming.

Name: A Ghost Story
Director, writer:  Richard Lowery
Released:  2017
Format:  1.37:1 (old-time aspect for close-ups)
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic Fairfax VA 2017/7/14 late night small audience
Length:  91
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  A24
Link:  official

(Posted: Saturday, July 15, 2017 at 2:30 PM EDT)

“It Comes at Night”: Doomsday prepper thriller mixes horror with family morality play

It Comes at Night”, written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, puts it all together:  frightening horror in a suddenly primitive Catskills forest environment off the grid, family loyalty, radical hospitality, doomsday-prepper survivalism, and personal moral karma.  Even if the premise is different, I’m remembered of classics like “The Blair Witch Project” and “The Last Broadcast”.

The background premise is a little bit open to interpretation.  A horrible pandemic has suddenly stopped the civilized world, rather like the super-flu in Stephen King’s “The Stand”.  Symptoms include vomiting black blood (yellow fever).  But rather than multiple road trips, this film presents a home stand.  A former history teacher Paul (Joel Edgerton), open minded enough for an interracial family with wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and teen son Travis (Kevin Harrison, Jr.) holes up in the woods in an ample house (a kind of “Cabin in the Woods“), hoping to become the next Noah.  One night a young man Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into the house looking for food and water.  Paul keeps him bound and quarantined outside but eventually the men start to trust each other.  Each has a family, and that’s very important/ Paul drives Will back into the woods, escaping one ambush, and eventually brings Will’s wife and young son (Riley Keough and Griffin Faulkner) to the house.

They set up a little commune with house rules, rather like an intentional community (like a miniature Twin Oaks).  But when the dog detects a menace outside and disappears, the trust between the two families, who have to behave according to certain norms if they can get a mini-civilization restarted at all.

The presentation of the dank insides of the home in the film is quite chilling. The force intimacy within each family — including the family bed — is something I could never deal with. This leads to an eventual catastrophic confrontation between the two adult fathers. I could not function in this kind of world.  You have to be want just remain alive enough for your own genetic progeny to function this way, like a wild animal with just the remnant of civilization to restart.

The dog’s fate does pose a real question about where this threat came from.

Name: “It Comes at Night”
Director, writer:  Trey Edward Shults
Released: 2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/6/14, ample crowd on a weekday night
Length:  91
Rating:  R
Companies: A24
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, June 14, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

“20th Century Women” raise a teenage boy at the end of the Carter years

20th Century Women”, directed by Mike Mills, is a meditation on feminist freedom in southern California late in the Carter years.

The centerpiece is the 15 year old Jamie (Lucas Wade Zuman), who is raised not only by his mother Dorothea (Annette Benning), who had born him in 1964 at age 40 herself, but also Julie (Elle Fanning) and Abbie (Greta Gerwig), and an engaging tabby cat, who holds the family together.  Then there is boyfriend William (Billy Crudup), who is turning over a 1905 fixer-upper that they live in, to the point that we see how load-bearing walls and floors are built.

The film is narrated largely by Jamie and Dorothea, predictive of the Reagan Years, HIV, the Internet, and Y2K.  But Dorothea, “now” in heaven I guess, tells us she will die of lung cancer just before Y2K, as the movie shows her chain smoking.  It’s interesting to see how Dorothea steers Jamie’s character and ability to think for himself. Women can raise sons without fathers, but William pretty much functions as a dad.

Julie is dealing with wanting kids after having cervical cancer brought on by a drug called DES (which they tried to give to my father in 1985 just before he died of advanced prostate cancer_.  Even by 1979, chemotherapy for most cancers was quite advanced.

The movie mentions various other books and movies, especially Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Traveled” (Peck would also author “People of the Lie”) and Toeffler’s “Future Shock”.

The film is shot on location around Santa Barbara, but some of the story moves up the coast along Highway 101.  I visited Santa Barbara (the University) in 2002 myself to visit a professor there (Aaron Belkin) at the Palm Center (concerning sexual minorities in the military).

The film, in tone, reminds me a little bit of “The World According to Garp” (1984). I even thought about “On Golden Pond” (1981).

Name: “20th Century Women”
Director, writer:  Mike Mills
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax, night, 2017/1/15, large audience
Length:  118
Rating:  R
Companies:  A24, Annapurna
Link:  official

Wikipedia picture, UCSB.

(Posted: Sunday, January 15, 2017. At 11 PM EST).

“Moonlight”: a tough coming-of-age drama, spanning decades, of a black gay man in Miami

everglades

Name: “Moonlight”
Director, writer:  Barry Jenkins (written, directed)
Released:  2016/10 (after Telluride)
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2016/10/30, late PM, small audience
Length 111
Rating R
Companies: A24
Link: official

Moonlight” is a tough coming-of-age story of a young black man in the ramshackle tenements of suburban Miami.

It’s in three parts (“Little”, “Chiron”, “Black”) with a different actor playing the boy (Alex Hilbert), teen (Ashton Sanders) and grown man (Trevante Rhodes).

In the opening, a crack dealer (Mahershala Ali) rescues the boy and becomes a father figure, as the film then explores the boy’s relationship with the drug-addicted mother.

As a teen, Chiron is bullied, and in one scene he asks his de facto parents what a “faggot” is.  Eventually, he becomes intimate “On the Beach” and “In the Moonlight” with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome).  The film has a couple classroom scenes, one where the biology teacher is trying to educate the kids about AIDS, and another where the teacher has to control a fight started by Chiron getting back at the bullies.

In the final part, Chiron is a hardened adult in the “Scarface” world of south Florida.  He wears an artificial denture resembling “Jaws” in the Bond movies.  But he reunites, at least in deep friendship, with Kevin.

The film confronts the gentrified viewer with the harsh reality of growing up in the drug-infested housing projects, where drug dealing is almost the entire economy.  Chiron tries to become as good a person as possible given the circumstances of his rearing.

The plot structure, of resuming a relationship that had started earlier, resembles that of “Lazy Eye” (Oct. 27) and even occurs in Dan Blatt’s novel “Calypso’s Cave” which I read a draft of in 1997 (discussion) — would make a nice indie film if it got made.

African American migratory workers by a "juke joint". Belle Glade, Florida, February 1941. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
African American migratory workers by a “juke joint”. Belle Glade, Florida, February 1941. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

In August 1986, when on vacation in a rent car, I visited Belle Glade, FL a migrant labor town on the shore of Lake Okeechobee, which had become a small epicenter for AIDS.  A car followed me out of town back to West Palm Beach.  It was bizarre.

I have to say that the “Moonlight” metaphor title hooks up with Reid Ewing’s song “In the Moonlight (Do Me)” from Modern Family. No, it’s not used but it could have been.  There is a lot of interesting African string music, but also a Mozart excerpt.

Picture: FL Everglades, my trip, 2004. Wikipedia attribution link for Belle Glade picture, LOC, p.d.

(Posted: Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016 at 10 PM EDT)

“American Honey”: teens sell door-to-door to support an on-the-road commune

kansas36

Name: American Honey
Director, writer:  Andrea Arnold
Released:  2016
Format:  1.37:1
When and how viewed:  2016/10/11 Angelica Mosaic evening small crowd
Length 163
Rating R
Companies: A24, Film4
Link: official

American Honey”, by Andrea Arnold, presents the world of door-to-door selling, which I had thought antiquated, with a twist:  it’s done by a vagabond of teenagers and young adults with a kind of on-the-road intentional community.

Star (Sasha Lane), some “white trash” from Texas nearly gets arrested by security in a suburban Kansas City supermarket, when she gets “hired” by the crew in the parking lot.  It’s led by Jake (Shia LaBeouf) and Krystal (Riley Keough), who labels her as a “honey”.

“Hiya” Shia is now 30, and begins to look it, with just a slight pot,  You want him to remain perfect, a role model, even with his past scuffles with the law.  Imdb says LaBeouf got twelve tattoos during the filming (or were they the new temporary digital tattoos from Microsoft, the so-called DuoSkin?)

kansas5

Most of the rest of the teens are tattooed and rather guttural, although that doesn’t always hold when they hit the road.

The crew has a business selling magazine subscriptions.  I can remember being approached and buying one of these around 1979 after moving to Dallas, and I even bought an unnecessary life insurance policy this way.  Two of the salesmen, it turned out, played chess, and I actually lost a game with White to one of them (I think to a Two Knights Defense – slurp!).

The crew starts out by canvassing one of the most opulent neighborhoods in suburban Kansas City, around the fountains.  I would think rich people, having a lot to lose, would refuse to admit door-to-door people out of fear of home invasion.  Even saying that is dangerous and seems to invite radical class warfare – insularity of the rich would keep a lot of people from being able to make a living at all.  But this one rich woman admits them and offers them refreshments out of Christian radical hospitality – until Star acts up around her kids and everybody gets kicked out.  The sales pitches play up the hokey poverty and charity angles.

Later the crew goes on the road to the North Dakota oil fields, with a stop in the Bad Lands.  Here it’s appropriate to note the artistic decision to shoot this 16-minute Altman-like film in 1.37:1, in order to focus on the closeups, 40s style.  But I wanted to see the outdoor stuff.  There’s a spectacular shot of downtown Kansas City, which I remember well from my graduate school days in the 1960s at KU (in Lawrence, KS).

With oil workers, the crew encourage blue collar mentality, which could make sales easier;  and finally they wind up selling to poor native Americans, who have nothing to lose (except diabetes).

Gradually, and predictably, Star begins to offer her body to make sales.  She starts developing an uneven relationship with Jake.  She teaches Jake how to use his pistol, which Jake uses to rescue Star from a barbecue where she may be about to be raped.  But the “home invasion” never happens.  The kids actually don’t want to harm anyone.

The film also shows a couple thunderstorms, and I wondered if there was going to be a tornado sequence (like the frogs in  Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia”.  This movie also reminded a bit of Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts” (1993).   Another comparison would be Brent Huff’s 2002 comedy “100 Mile Rule”, about the “always be closing” aspect of sales culture.   (There was another Brent in the screenwriting group in Minneapolis in 2003 who was floating a script “I Hate Speed-dating”.  I wonder if it got anywhere.)

Near the end, there is a curious scene where a female bear accosts Star outdoors, and lovingly sniffs Star, as if to tell Star that she (Star) is pregnant.  Will animal mothers know these things about moms of other species.

As for the sales culture in the film – it presents the idea that a lot of people live in a world where everything is about manipulating others to play ball with you.  That’s how Donald Trump (who gets mentioned) thinks.

Pictures: Mine, 2006 (Flint Hills, KS and KC Star press)

(Posted: Wednesday, Oct, 12, 2016, 10:30 AM EDT)

“The Lobster”: satire on the idea that single and childless people can bring down a nation

Twelve_pins

 

Name: The Lobster
Director, writer:  Yorgos Lanthimos with Ethymis Filippou
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1 film
When and how viewed: Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax VA, Sat PM, 2016/5/21, moderate audience
Companies: A24
Link: Official site

The Lobster” is vicious satire, of on the basic tenets of most authoritarian cultures: every adult should be married and raise kids, or else he (especially) becomes a dangerous parasite on “the people.”

The title is about as symbolic as “Grapes of Wrath” (in an “I Love Lucy” episode).  When asked what kind of animal he wants to become if he fails to find a romantic partner in the 45 days allowed at this luxury hotel, David, the protagonist, says, indeed, that crustacean, because it has blue blood and lives a century – hope it doesn’t wind up in a supermarket to be boiled alive.

Now David, plays by Colin Farrell, looks uncouth enough.  He has a moderate pot belly, hanging over the belt, kept in place by a padlock.

You get the picture.  The “patients” have been swept off the streets in a dystopian future (ok, “Hunger Games”), set in Ireland, were fascism has recaptured the entire West. Men wandering in public are confronted by police to prove they are married, just like women in Muslim countries must be covered. Chronic delinquents are sent to the hotel.

We learn about how this works “on the outside” in the 118-minute film’s second act, set in the woods, run by the rebels, who, while providing relief from the 45-day rule, enforce their own brutal kind of discipline.  OK, choose between fascism and communism.  The irony is, of course, is that Dave finds love, of sorts, with the “Short Sighted Woman” (Rachel Weisz), and the movie tells us its backstory with their clandestine trips to the “city”.  To cement their love, in the end, David must mutilate himself in one of the most unthinkable, grating ways imaginable (and it’s not what you first expect).

The Spa rules are a bit mixed.  Homosexual couples are actually allowed (but bisexuality and transgender is not). Masturbation is forbidden.  When a relatively attractive straight couple (both tend to have nosebleeds) marries, the Hotel will supervise them to make sure they consummate the marriage.  If they don’t make it, then an “OPC” (one of “other people’s children”) will be assigned to them as an adoptee.

Throughout the movie, the dialogue is cleverly worded, perhaps tastelessly, as it tries to anticipate how an autistic person (or someone with Asperger’s) would say something.  From a “mental health” viewpoint, the film mixes up the ideas of Asperger’s with schizoid personality.

The film has other odd effects, with tranquilizer guns, as if to make political statements about weapons, and sometimes seems to be recreating Stephen King ideas (like in “The Shining”, 1981).  You have to applaud Olivia Colman for her chilling performance as the hotel manager.

The music score uses string quartet music by Beethoven (#7), Scnittke, Britten (#1), and Shostakovich (#8, with the famous three-chord motive) very chillingly.

The official site claims that it determines “your second chance animal”.  I’m rather reminded of the afterlife promised in Michael Anderson’s “Logan’s Run” (1976).

IMG21155

The movie certainly caused me to recreate my own days at NIH as a patient at NIH in 1962, and of my expulsion from William and Mary in 1961, when the Dean learned that, as an only child, I would probably not carry on the family lineage, and he had to tell my parents.  That pretty much explains Vladimir Putin’s attitude in underpopulated dystopian Russia today.

The distributor, A24, is getting a reputation for releasing edgy sci-fi films and social experiments.

Wikipedia attribution link for Irish scenery typical of the movie by Joebater, under CCSA 3.0.

I have a brief review on imdb of the movie here.

This is a good place to mention “The Bachelor” (1999, New Line), directed by Gary Senyor and Roy Cooper Mengure, based on the 1925 play “Seven Chances” by Jean Havez.  The comedy film plays on the idea of the “dead hand”, an idea from Victorian English novels that doesn’t have much currency now.  Chris O’Donnell plays the heir who will lose his unearned fortune if he doesn’t get married by age 30, as I remember.  Though the subject of cash cow comedy, the idea really isn’t funny in real life.

(Published: Saturday, May 21, 2016 at 8:45 PM EDT)