THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER

Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, 2017

If like me you were impressed by the previous release from director Yorgos Lanthimos, The Lobster, then this film will not disappoint.

In The Killing of a Sacred Deer we are introduced to Steven (Colin Farrell) and Anna (Nicole Kidman), a high-achieving couple with two children who are the epitome of cute. But Steven is a renowned cardiologist with a secret. When we are introduced to Martin (Barry Keoghan), a young boy Steven appears to have befriended, we are already beginning to sense that all is not as it seems. Martin at first appears innocent and charming, but soon begins showing strange and worrying behaviours. When he does reveal his true intentions it is matter of fact, cold and ultimately devastating for Steven and his 'perfect' family.

Lanthimos may be brutal and uncompromising – the film starts with a striking and visceral close up of a beating heart – but his genius is also in the subtle. The way the family converses around the dinner table is natural but ever so slightly off kilter, as is much of the interaction between Steven and Martin, even from the start. Martin is disarmingly charismatic whilst having an underlying darkness and knowing. Keoghan is scarily good in this role. I wouldn't want to sit down to a bowl of spaghetti in his company.

As we have seen before in Lanthimos' films, the score carries us along on an unsettling, jarring journey. Reminiscent of Taxi Driver, he uses sound design to push you back in your seat, jabbing his finger into your heart and keeping the pressure on so you can’t breathe.

By the final sequence the film leaves us battered, bruised and feeling very unsure of ourselves. You may not ‘enjoy’ this film and it will likely stay with you for a long time, but it's definitely worth the experience.

Dawn Stilwell

THE DEATH OF STALIN

Dir. Armando Iannucci, 2017

A scathing portrait of the USSR’s Central Committee of the Communist Party immediately following Stalin’s death in 1953, The Death of Stalin is just as unsettling as The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Both films subtly foreground with unnerving ease the power and pointlessness of the evil that men so often do, culminating in horrifying violence.

Critical responses have been mixed. While some are positive, many felt the film fails to ‘jab hard enough’ when posing what Simran Hans in The Guardian considers the perfect opportunity "to capitalise on anti-Russia sentiment and […] jab one of history’s most notorious autocrats in the ribs at a time when dictatorial, power-drunk figures are actually in power". Frustrated that the film is oddly serious, there is critical feeling that it just isn’t funny enough compared to Iannucci’s other work.

For my money, that it’s not as funny is no bad thing. Iannucci-as-filmmaker strikes an unsettling balance between humour and pathos, between making jokes and reminding us how deadly serious the stakes were, and remain, for so many. We see what the film could do. The comic timing is impeccable, not just in the dialogue but the visual gags of, for instance, a body rolling down the stairs. But what’s most compelling is what the film chooses not to do – that is, to not get a laugh from, precisely, rolling bodies.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s humour aplenty and laugh-out-loud moments, yet their very inappropriateness stops it from being a vile mockery of the off-hand way in which women and men are tortured, raped and murdered all the while.

The ineptitude of Jeffrey Tambor’s corset-wearing Malenkov is painfully amusing, Steve Buscemi’s hilariously exasperated and calculating Khrushchev is superb, and the frame story around Paddy Considine’s panicked Radio Moscow producer, Comrade Andreyev, is narratively effective and appropriately absurd, a tragicomic reminder of the plight of citizens under the Stalinist regime.

The casting of Jason Isaacs as feared Red Army General Zhukov, complete with a rough Sheffield accent, is as inspired as it is uproariously entertaining. His bursting onto the screen is a microcosm of the way in which Iannucci’s film and casting deftly criticise the men surrounding Stalin and their deeply reprehensible behaviour after his death, even amongst claims of ‘reform’.

Samantha Holland

FILM LISTINGS

Hosted by Samantha Holland

INDIEFLICKS SHORT FILM FESTIVAL
Wed 6 Dec | 7:30pm | Sentinel Brewing Co | Free
At IndieFlicks’ monthly screenings you vote for your favourite short film, followed by a Q&A session with a special guest and a featured short. This month it's Ctrl-Z, in which a hopeless romantic invents a device allowing him infinite attempts to impress the girl of his dreams. Minimum age 18. ifshorts.com

GREMLINS 2 SPECIAL EDITION
Dir. Joe Dante, USA
Thu 7 Dec | 7pm | Regather | £4 / £7
Regather’s B-movie film night, ODDEON, presents a version of the horrifying Christmas favourite you’re probably not as familiar with as the messily-edited original. ODDEON promises they’ve found and restored all the cut material to restore it to the film "it was always meant to be". regather.net

INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION
Dir. Elio Petri, Italy
Sun 10 Dec | 4pm | Showroom | £8.80 / £6.60
Part of the Showroom’s thriller season, this film dramatises the ethical collapse of a police investigator, his existence in a ludicrously bureaucratic world meaning he can leave concrete evidence of his own crime and still be deemed innocent. Striking, stylistically imposing social critique – if not unproblematic in the treatment of its victims. showroomworkstation.org.uk

HOME ALONE
Dir. Chris Columbus, USA
Sun 17 Dec | 6pm | Abbeydale Picture House | £11 / £14 + Family Tickets
Classic festive fun through the eyes of a terrified eight-year-old left home alone by his thoughtless family. Gremlins and Elf are also screening on 16 December. thevillagegreenevents.co