BFI London Film Festival 2017 - UPDATE #7
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
UK/IRELAND/121 MINUTES/HEADLINE GALAS
Say what you will about Yorgos Lanthimos, you can't deny that the man makes interesting films. And though they've all been flawed in their own ways, it's nice to live in a world where movies this unusual and distinct can still be made. About a surgeon whose relationship with the son of a former patient quickly turns sinister, The Killing of a Sacred Deer
is a darkly comic, oddball horror film that feels kind of like an episode of a bizarre, ultra-quirky alternate dimension Twilight Zone
. Lanthimos does a pretty great job of establishing an atmosphere of tension and unease, and his sense of style is absolutely impeccable (stylistically, at least, there are definite shades of Kubrick). However, there just isn't enough here to sustain a feature-length film, and certainly not one that runs at a very bloated 121 minutes. Lanthimos's predilection to make all of his characters talk and act like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man
makes them hard to connect with, and though there's a lot of interesting stuff going on, it isn't enough to overcome the thin story and exaggeratedly quirky characters.
Directed by Azazel Jacobs
USA/94 MINUTES/OFFICIAL COMPETITION
About a married couple who are both having affairs, The Lovers
is a solidly made and entertaining relationship drama. It's the type of low-key film that lives and dies on its performances, and it certainly excels in that regard -- both Debra Winger and Tracy Letts are great in the film, with Letts in particular giving the movie's stand-out performance. Writer/director Azazel Jacobs clearly knows how to create endearing characters, and his no-frills direction suits the film quite well. The biggest issue is Mandy Hoffman's distractingly extravagant, incongruous score; it's reminiscent of Marvin Hamlisch's purposely over-the-top work in The Informant, but if the score here is similarly purposeful, it's a bit inscrutable.
The Florida Project
Directed by Sean Baker
USA/115 MINUTES/STRAND GALAS
An aimless, unpleasant, and punishing endurance test of a film, The Florida Project
is about the random exploits of a group of kids and their parents in and around a low-rent Florida motel. The film is able to remain entertaining for a while thanks to its palpable sense of authenticity -- the kids and the denizens of the motel all feel very real. The children, in particular, are pretty much the opposite of the usual precocious kids you see in movies. But it turns out there's a reason cinematic children are so precocious; real kids just aren't very interesting to watch for extended periods of time. And aside from Willem Dafoe, all of the adult characters are kind of the worst (the mom of the main kid is particularly egregious -- I think she's supposed to be a sympathetic character, but by the end of the film I pretty much hated her). A vast portion of this film replicates the experience of being forced to watch the tedious home movies of an acquaintance's bratty children (albeit home videos shot with handsome widescreen cinematography). It's brutally dull.
Directed by Joachim Trier
NORWAY/FRANCE/DENMARK/SWEDEN/116 MINUTES/STRAND GALAS
About a young girl who slowly (very slowly) realizes that she might have supernatural powers, Thelma features stylish direction by Joachim Trier and an premise that gets more intriguing as the film goes along -- but there's a fine line between slow burn and just plain slow, and this movie crosses it. Its plodding pace combined with long stretches in which not all that much happens proves to be disastrous. There's a really interesting reveal towards the end that gives us a fuller sense of the protagonist's powers; it's hard not to wish that this had come much sooner in the film. It's a pretty great setup for a movie that would be much more interesting than the one we actually got.