3 posts categorized "Psychological Thriller"

November 15, 2017


Killing_of_a_sacred_deerGreek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthamos is, in the words of Blondie’s Debbie Harry, “a case of partial extreme.” Since making his overwrought and under-executed feature debut “Dogtooth” (in 2009), Lanthamos has veered into the mainstream via A-list actors. If you saw his 2015 film “The Lobster” (starring Colin Farrell, John C. Reilly, and Rachel Weisz) then you have an idea of what I mean by partial extreme. An unsatisfying movie with a good cast is nonetheless a disappointing experience.   

Lanthamos’s visually drab film’s all begin with a promising high-concept first act that crumbles into an unrecognizable pile of filmic detritus by the time the third act grinds into gear. They represent a cinematic hoax. His 2011 film “Alps” is his best effort, but that isn’t saying much. Lanthamos is a self-styled auteur who drafts artsy screenplays infected with magical realism that he attempts to pawn off as surrealist in nature. Needless to say, Lanthamos's grasp of surrealism is vague at best. 

Sacred deer

Lars von Trier (“Breaking the Waves”), Michael Haneke (“Funny Games”), and Ulrich Seidl (“Import Export”) are clearly Lanthamos’s idols, but he doesn’t possess the intellectual or practical rigor of those established filmmakers. Lanthamos’s films don’t even begin to step into the superior realm of surrealist allegory laid down by the great Mexican-Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel.

“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is a glacial revenge fantasy involving Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), a cardiothoracic surgeon with a wife (Anna — Nicole Kidman), his young son Bob (Sunny Suljic), and Kim (Raffey Cassidy), a pubescent daughter who all come under attack by Martin (Barry Keoghan), the teenage son of a man who died on Steven Murphy’s operating table a decade before. Steven is a recovered alcoholic who very will may have been drinking on the day he operated on Martin’s dad.


Martin is special. He has the ability to put a curse on Steven’s family that renders them unable to walk. Eventually the curse will cause them to bleed from the eyes before killing Martin’s entire family unless Martin murders one of them, hence the “sacred deer” of the film’s title. Clearly, we are in the genre land of a psychological thriller concealing a social satire (think Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!”).

Whatever allegorical connection Yorgos Lanthamos is attempting to make regarding King Agamemnon’s experiences after killing a deer owned by Artemis, the polemic presented in this film is too abstract and drawn out to flourish. If you’re going to spend two hours of misery in a darkened cinema there had better be a thematic reward. The only just desert that this film deserves is being ignored with a vengeance by audiences who know better than waste their time. Pay your respects to Von Trier, Haneke, and Seidl rather than to this third-rate hack.


Rated R. 121 mins. (D+) (One star — out of five / no halves)

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September 09, 2017


Colesmithey.comThe direction, editing, pacing, and tone are so off in director Andy Muschietti’s filmic adaptation of Stephen King’s child-led psychodrama horror picture that the movie is more of a chore than a source of entertainment. The film’s by-committee screenplay is at once overwrought and under-polished. Three screenwriters is one too many. 

Gallons of corn syrup fake blood don’t help. Here is a glorified haunted house movie that doesn’t hold a candle to “Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” “The Mummy,” or any of the other famous Universal monster movies of the ‘30s and ‘40s. Blame it on a lack of backstory for this hollow clown monster creation.

It doesn’t help that there are no likable (read reliable or responsible) adult characters to be found in or around the small Maine town of Derry, circa 1988 and 1989 where the action takes place. Blame Steven King for this aspect I suppose. Crucial plot holes abound.

When Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), the first of our seven shared-child protagonists, loses his little seven-year-old brother Georgie to a whacked out clown living in a gutter drain, not even the woman who witnessed the savage attack from her living room window seems to give a damn. The house cat, however is bothered. Already, our suspension of disbelief is strained over a killer clown with a many-toothed vagina dentata where his mouth should be.


The Riverdale neighborhood of Toronto subs for Maine. Missing persons signs adorn brick walls in a picturesque small town populated with teenaged reprobates, pedophiles, and racists. Naturally, there is Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), a token black kid bullied and victimized by Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), the mullet-wearing son of the town cop. The subplot tips its hat to Charles Burnett’s “Killer of Sheep” by introducing Mike as a child slaughterhouse worker tasked with stunning sheep with a captive bolt pistol prior to their slaughter. Henry should know better than mess with a kid whose killer instincts are already awaken.


Gratuitously, our motley collection of nerdy boys enjoy the company of Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), a local redhead smeared with the scarlet letter of slut. Sexual abuse victim is more like it. Beverly’s dad is the kind of bastard for whom you wish an especially hot version of hell. The kids rally together against all form of everyday and paranormal evil towards defeating the fear that invades their every waking moment. “It” is not an especially scary movie even for its intended youthful audience; for most part the film’s R rating is a ruse.


“It” just doesn’t cut it. Do yourself a favor and get a copy of Frank Darabont’s “The Mist,” based on Stephen King’s novel, and enjoy a genuinely creepy movie that will give you nightmares.

Rated R. 135 mins. (C-) (One star — out of five / no halves)

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March 25, 2014


Jacob's LadderNearly a decade before audiences chatted about the “surprise” ending of “The Sixth Sense” as though it were a big deal, Adrian Lyne’s psychological thriller left its audience too depleted to speak. “Jacob’s Ladder” is a terrifying film, a devastating experience people try to forget, rather than bring up at parties.

Tim Robbins plays Jacob Singer, a lanky Vietnam War veteran who suffers from hallucinations. Many times, his whole life — complete with a romantic relationship to a beautiful woman — seems questionable. By day, Jacob works for the post office in New York City with his live-in girlfriend Jezzie (Elizabeth Peña). On the subway he reads a dog-eared copy of Camus’s absurdist novel “The Stranger,” about a man who doesn’t cry at his mother’s funeral. Flashbacks from his wartime experiences with his troop haunt him, as do remembrances of a failed marriage that ended after their young son was run over on his bicycle.


Tim Robbins sums up his bedeviled character with a delicate balance of intelligence and fog. He’s like a wounded puppy the audience wants to help. However, people and things are out to get Jacob. He’s almost run over by a subway car. A carload of men tries to run him down. Weird demons appear at the fringes of his vision.

A visit to his sympathetic chiropractor Louie (Danny Aiello) finally helps alleviate the nagging confusion and physical pain that Jacob suffers. When Jacob slips into a 106 fever, Jezzie and his apartment’s neighbors bring ice to pour on his scalding body in the bathtub.


Adrian Lyne masterfully coordinates the way the audience experiences Jacob’s knotted state so that there is ebb and flow to the way the exposition mounts. The audience has to time to think between excruciating sequences of suspense.

Jacob’s ever-revealing flashbacks prompt him to reconnect with the other surviving members of his company. They too suffer from ghastly hallucinations. Vague memories of a violent attack in the Vietnam jungle demand answers. Jacob and his Army buddies decide to request an investigation into the mysterious event that ended their service, but inexplicably back out after meeting with an attorney.


Is Jacob’s post-traumatic stress disorder a symptom or a cause? Is, or was, Jacob a lab rat in a government experiment à la the CIA’s LSD trials? Are any of Jacob’s friends really on his side, or are they all in on a plot to ruin him? These and many other big questions proliferate a movie about war and human life from a well-informed perspective that sees through the miasma of social distractions that the media and history pile on.

The ending to “Jacob’s Ladder” has long been cause for confusion to critics and filmgoers alike. You can’t watch the film without getting involved.

Rated R. 116 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.


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