Classical tragedy mixed with moderate sadism and Polanski-ish surrealism, upstart filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest test of audience endurance plays like Sophie’s Choice by way of the ‘burbs. Don’t let that description be deceptive — it may not be everyone’s proverbial cup of tea.
Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Lobster) builds his bizarre revenge tale around a heart surgeon, Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), his opthomalogist wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), and their children Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic). Their lives begin to unravel when Martin (Darry Keoghan, Dunkirk), the teenage son of a patient who died when Steve operated on him while drunk, worms his way into their (supposedly) idyllic world .
Martin’s agenda — once it snaps into focus with a chilling second-act reveal — is one of retribution. He latches onto Steve as a father figure, going so far as to encourage him to sleep with the boy’s mother (Alicia Silverstone). When one of the children falls ill with a mysterious illness, he also reveals a taste for biblical-style justice by demanding that Steve kill one of his family members or else lose all of them.
Farrell is well-cast as a hapless, arrogant buffoon, and Kidman steals a couple of great scenes in which Anna’s composure shatters and her palpable anger bursts forth. Silverstone even manages to shake of some of the lingering effect remnants of Clueless. That said, it is ultimately Keoghan who owns the film with his chilling depiction of serene and detached evil, delivering threats and ultimatums in a self-assured, breathless monotone from a face you can’t help wanting to punch.
Lanthimos’s particular style — something akin to Stanley Kubrick or David Lynch, but without warmth — is particularly effective this time around, mixing somewhat pastoral suburban visuals with tracking shots of sterile institutions and cold grey cityscapes and punctuating scenes with a discordant and of bombastic score.
So, obviously, it’s not for everyone. It does offer a payoff to more adventurous and open-minded viewers however, especially in a year increasingly dominated by letdown after letdown in both the megaplexes and the arthouses.