Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Killing of a Sacred Deer: Review

In Euripides' play, Iphigenia at Aulis, King Agamemnon accidentally killed a deer, sacred to Artemis, goddess of wilderness. This, of course, enraged her, and as a result, she stopped all the winds so the King's ships could not sail to Troy during the Trojan War. Artemis did, however, offer the king one deal: in order to appease her, Agamemnon had to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, in return for killing a sacred deer. 

Cue Yorgos Lanthimos and his recent drama/horror, aptly titled The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Lanthimos has nurtured his trademark bold and unsettling style, and The Killing is no different. He starts the film with an extreme close up of open heart surgery, and it's hard to hold your gaze as this scene slowly unravels. The characters are similar to those in his cult-hit The Lobster, along with Dogtooth, wherein they deliver monotonous lines and go through their daily motions in in an eerily calm demeanour. Characters in Lanthimos films are always robotic, and in a way perhaps he's representing modern day relationships? 

Whatever the case, this leads you to believe that something is off - Yorgos' world isn't one we as viewers are used to. This is a dystopian universe where lessons must be learned. And so, just with the myth of Iphigenia, we find our lead character, Steven (played by the brilliant Colin Farrell), having to make the ultimate, unfathomable sacrifice. 

Of course, it'd be very upsetting to give this away, so I'll save it for you all to find out on your own. You won't have to wait long, as we're hit with the macabre news pretty early on in the film, and you spend the rest of the time sitting in agony, waiting for Steven's final judgment day. 

The supporting cast is also fabulous. Scott's wife, Anna, is played by Nicole Kidman, and they have two beautiful children, Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic). It naturally seems quite bizarre that Steven has taken a very awkward teenager named Martin (Barry Keoghan), under his wing when he appears to have an ideal life otherwise. Shortly after Steven starts spending time with Martin, his family begins to come down with mysterious medical plights. 

Hailing from Greece himself, Yorgos is the perfect man to tell the tale of a modern Greek tragedy. You're left utterly speechless and impressed at the end of the film, as so many subtle elements contribute to making The Killing a masterpiece. The grandiose music, featuring classical composers such as Bach and Franz Schubert, give the movie a sense of brilliance. Meanwhile, Yorgos also borrows elements from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. With the Steadicam shots that ominously pan, to the tensity of the scenes between Steven and Martin, the similarities are uncanny. Even Bob, Steven's son, has a striking resemblance to Danny from The Shining. 

The Killing of a Sacred Deer sets itself up as a gem of psychological horror and I wouldn't be surprised if Lanthimos walks away with an Oscar for his work. I highly recommend watching this in theatres, as the nerve-wracking scenes are so much more amplified seeing them on the big screen. You simply can't look away, and why would you? Yorgos Lanthimos has yet again proven he's able to take an abstract and absurd concept and deliver in a way that leaves you deeply disturbed yet engaged. You're dragged into his world and left to linger on it for months to come. 


Friday, December 1, 2017

Review: My Friend Dahmer

Is it possible to be born a monster, something innate inside you that you can't control or, is it something that festers and grows, dependent on your upbringing and environment around you? 

My Friend Dahmer is a difficult movie to review. I hesitated to publish this since I never in a million years thought that I would leave the film feeling sympathy for Dahmer, so much so that I couldn't stop thinking about him for days afterward. 

We all know the story behind Jeffrey Dahmer, the American serial killer and cannibal who murdered, raped, and chopped up the bodies of 17 young men between the late 70's and early 90's. The details of his killings are atrociously gruesome, enough to send shivers down the spine of anyone willing to dig deeper and learn more. What's even more chilling are the interviews with him afterward, the cool and collected demeanor of an absolute psychopath. 

Familiar with all this, I naturally went into Marc Meyers' My Friend Dahmer very curious. The film is based on a graphic novel of the same name, which was written by Dahmer's high school acquaintance, John Beckderf. It chronicles the last two years of Jeffrey Dahmer's high school life, ending just before he claims his first victim.

When we first meet Dahmer (played by the fantastic Ross Lynch), he's a complete loner at school, with a hunched posture and sullen disposition. His home life is a wreck with his parents arguing repeatedly, and his mother who appears to have a bipolar disorder and addiction to pills. He takes solace in collecting and dissecting roadkill, mesmerized by the insides of these creatures. He suddenly acquires "friends" at school, one of them being John, who enjoy his ability to degrade himself and have random outbursts as pranks on schoolmates and the community. His friends slowly realize, however, that there is more than just these outbursts...there's something wrong with Dahmer. Once they start shunning him, he spirals into a slow alcoholism, and you see his mental state deteriorate and become increasingly more disturbing. 

Now, because the film ends just before Jeffrey commits his first crime, you don't see any of the murders. You see Dahmer before he becomes the historic villain we've already been acquainted with. Because of this, Marc Meyer's does a fantastic job of humanizing the character. There are instances where Dahmer is just a regular teenager, from mocking his mother's interior designer, being on a class trip and trying to make new friends, to even asking a girl out to prom, you forget who Jeffrey Dahmer is. Even the title of the film itself is almost endearing. Before watching My Friend Dahmer I remember thinking, "how can anyone think of Dahmer as their friend?" Afterwards, you realize that once upon a time he was, in fact, someone's friend, a suburban teenager before any crimes were committed. All of this makes you wonder, what if someone reached out to him and simply asked him if he was okay, would it have changed anything? Would the outcome have been any different? You almost feel sorry for him, conflicted with emotions since you know exactly who he is. 

I think it's phenomenal that Meyers decided to skip the inclusion of any of the murders. It would have almost felt like a cop-out. You do see two very intense and close encounters, leaving you at the edge of your seat. My Friend Dahmer is definitely slow but extremely powerful. Ross Lynch does such a fantastic job at picking up on Dahmer's traits and getting into the character's mind completely. It's also chilling to know that the scenes in Jeffrey's house are actually shot in the real home he ends up killing his first victim in. 

I highly recommend seeing this indie gem wherever you can, as it's an extremely intimate and despairing portrait of someone beyond hope or help. My Friend Dahmer is the ideal opportunity to question your own emotions and the compassion you'll inevitably feel, something that I'm still struggling coming to terms with. As Nietzsche once wisely put it, "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you."

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