Into the final half and the LFF served up a gravely twisted horror; an authentically lyrical slice of indie cinema, and an enlightening screen-talk with a revered director.

Day Six of the BFI LFF was the one to beat, and though one film became a festival favourite because of it’s tragic and malicious intentions, it was thematically a much more pleasant day.

deer

After The Lobster, you’d be forgiven for thinking Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos would be furthering down the path of the absurdly funny, after all, each of his films has an eccentric style of humour, either in the way characters request something outlandish with a stony expression, or in the stiff, poetic diction. With his second American-language feature The Killing of A Sacred Deer (A-), Lanthimos does away with the humour that is peppered through his filmography and instead tries his hand at unmitigated horror. It couldn’t be further away from funny. Colin Farrell – in another striking role – plays Steven, an admired, distinguished cardiovascular surgeon whose private life incorporates peculiar idiosyncrasies typical of Lanthimos and co-writer Efthimis Filippou’s creatively offbeat writing. Steven’s wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) is an equally talented ophthalmologist, who are both parents to Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and the Bob (Sunny Suljic), two youngsters who excel in academia. The Murphy house is under a rigid system of rules, with time-specific chores (ie. walking the dog in the day, watering the plants at night), and conversation between them being more mechanical than loving. Fracturing this quaint household is Martin (Barry Keoghan), a 16-year-old whose motivations are clouded by a subtlety that Keoghan promotes with unadorned brilliance. Standing tall amongst such established stars as Farrell, Kidman and Bill Camp, Keoghan commands the film and carries all of the expository scenes with an unnerving fluency. Martin has social difficulties, and his and Steven’s relationship is stylishly hidden behind a veil of normalcy.

As with The Lobster’s naturally lit hallways and bristly forests, Thimios Bakatakis’s cinematography applies clinical blues and soft whites to give each setting a sense of calm, a feeling that’s crushed when Martin’s terrifying machinations are gradually revealed. In one suddenly eerie moment, the story is spelt out over a table to a shocked Steven in a way that hit my by absolute surprise: Martin expresses where the plot will take us in a maniacally matter-of-fact fashion that unsettled me to the core. His insidious ideas, whether fully researched or not, aren’t ostentatious or vaudevillian, they’re simply terrifying. On top of this constant feeling of unease build up with the cinematography and the perfectly subdued script, is the surprising, piercings sound mixing that obliterates the silence of some scenes in a scarier way than any jump-scare could possibly hope to achieve. It’s an unkind film, whose threatened resolution is hard to stomach at times, and its general ambiguity gives it a fantastical element that furthers the sense of otherworldly paranoia. Yorgos Lanthimos is a director like no other, telling stories how he wants in a purposefully unapproachable, clinical way, and I, for one, love it.

deltoro

Following on from yesterday’s screening of the splendid The Shape of Water, I was lucky enough to get a last minute seat to Guillermo del Toro’s absorbing screen-talk. Starting at the beginning, the visionary director spoke of how his infatuation with monsters started not with the love of them, but with the fear of them. As a 2-year-old, he made a literal pact with the monsters that frightened him in his cot, striking a deal with them in exchange for a lifetime of understanding. Whether a true anecdote or not, his level of storytelling is as excellent here as it is in his screenplays. del Toro’s jovial nature and all-around approachability with questions posed to him by the host gave me a new appreciation to a man whose filmography isn’t without its misfires, but talking specifically about how he put Doug Jones through the ringer time and again with complex rigs that were heavier than a motorcycle (Hellboy 2’s Angel of Death) and those that bent his knees in a way that knees shouldn’t bend (Pan’s Labyrinth’s Pan). These anecdotes come one after the other, and each introduction to select scenes was as informative and illuminating as the last. Whether he had to spontaneously adjust a scene, or reset hours of dedicated make-up work in order to realise his vision, he always had something more to add to the generally known on-set incidents. Every movie serves as a cabinet of curiosities to his self, full of rich detail and rewatchability, and having someone so entrenched in Hollywood impart so much wisdom was fascinating. During the Q&A part of the screen-talk, del Toro stated that “I have never made a movie I wouldn’t die for”, and it certainly shows in the lovingly crafted worlds that countless fans get lost in.

person

Person to Person (B+), by all accounts, has a genericism to its day in the life stories of a variety of New Yorkers navigating love, forgiveness, and weird crimes. There’s a lead reporter (Michael Cera) taking his runner (Abbi Jacobson) under his wing to solve a murder/suicide; a gender fluid teenager (Tavi Gevinson) hanging around with her perpetually horny friends; a record collector (Bene Coopersmith) on the hunt for a rare LP, and a boorish idiot whose malicious actions toward his girlfriend deserve him all the threats of bodily harm he receives from her friends. None of these stories are flashy (apart from perhaps Michaela Watkins’ humorously realised socialite trying to cover-up a possible murder), which keeps the stories levelheaded and engaging. Dustin Guy Defa’s writing often teases multiple connective strands, but ensures they never materialise. This is of great benefit to the story as the audience are coerced into finding threads themselves, rather than have it delivered in a broadly encompassing way (Defa said as much in the post-screening Q&A: films like Paul Haggis’s Crash suck due to the pedestrian way in which they’re brought together). Person to Person is raggedly funny throughout too, a charming wryness to each of these plots that elevate its easy-going nature, even in the face of these journeys of emotional growth. Not only that, but there’s a farcical element to it too: the metal lyrics that Cera’s Phil imparts on Claire (Jacobsen) as wisdom is anything but, and the amusingly low-stakes city-wide bike chase is nothing short of brilliant. It’s a love letter to New York city that’s not in love with itself, with a commendably watchable ensemble and a joke hit-ratio that’s hard to find in self-professed comedies.

Day 7 was a brilliant day for being terrified, charmed, and informed, one that started off better than I’d even anticipated and ended exactly how it needed to. There was a meticulous detail to everything, from The Killing of a Sacred Deer’s/ literal open-heart surgery, Guillermo del Toro’s painstaking approach to creating fantastical worlds, or Person to Person’s sleuthing, that made for a really absorbing day at the LFF.