Wednesday, December 20, 2017


Stephen is a middle aged surgeon who meets teenaged Martin in secret. Their relationship feels parent and child and extends to Stephen giving Martin an expensive watch as a present. Their conversation is stilted, as though they've only recently met, but also hints at a deeper intimacy. Martin begins to encroach on Stephen's work and then home life, drawing invitations from Stephen that have the ring of extortion.

Home life feels bourgeois, the couple, both doctors keep their tobacco habits from each other while the teenage daughter and tween boy appear to behave as we might expect, with both age appropriate sensitivity and difference clearly on show. Not an idyll by any means but vulnerable. This is where Martin enters as plot driver as he reveals the plan we have been waiting for from the first scene.

I won't spoil this but will say that this is the point where the film shifts from a kind of stylised realism to a gritty kind of magical realism. Whatever we are to make of Martin's power we can clearly see the effects and are compelled to follow the desperation of the characters to its ghastly end.

Lanthimos builds his world carefully, allowing us only enough empathy with the central characters to keep up but releasing enough when it matters to have us on the edge of our seats. The sense of threat and potentially explosive violence is constant. But the sinews of seduction within this horrifying tale serve to inject a vein of nauseous upset. The perfectly cast Barry Keoghan has a Max Cady's expertise with a smooth turn from gormless simpleton to unsettling manipulator. His steel blue calculation forces the conversations his own way. Sometimes that's the conquest of the daughter of the house and sometimes that's a perfectly turned threat to the parents.

Colin Farrell has a difficult task under a massive bush of beard and his deadpan Dublin lilt. His personal fortress is only that deeply walled and his surprise at Martin's success results in a palpable struggle with his own ethical sense. Nicole Kidman plays an older version of her role in Eyes Wide Shut, an American royal with a keen eye on the preservation of her realm. Sunny Suljic plays the kind of boy on the verge of bursting adolescence that we saw in Todd Solondz's best early efforts and Raffey Cassidy brings a hear rending vulnerability to her teenage girl longing for life beyond the home beautiful. However, the one I'll mention in dispatches here is the one I took a few ticks to identify. Martin's mother, in an excruciating scene of arranged seduction, pushes herself toward Stephen with the wiles of a mature woman but the compulsion of a teenager. I couldn't work out hwo it was until she grinned. It was a nervous grin but it flashed like a photo ID. Alicia Silverstone, still golden and energetic has reached from Clueless to this grinding horror with a commitment that leaves her pathetic as a character but brave and prepared as an actor.

This film is oddly more difficult than it's more fanciful predecessors as it keeps the alien force at its heart pumping solidly, making the already strained realism of the first act unnerving. That is why I will keep buying a ticket with his byline and it was the same in the eighties and nineties with David Lynch: I just had no control over what I might see and it scared me and I would much rather be scared by a risk taker than watch a logically perfect genre piece. I like popcorn movies but I love ones that make me think about what I'm buying a ticket to. The weird and the wonderful, the terrifying and the bleak, at their best lure me with the same kind of heart we see naked and pulsing in the opening shot of this film.

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