Greek myth inspires thriller

15 Sacred Deer

The French theory of “auteurism” has proved a valuable way to view and analyse films. Though it originated in France as far back as the late 1940s, it has been constantly updated.

It was first invented as a way of distinguishing European filmmakers, particularly the French New Wave of the 1960s, Italy’s neo-realists and Sweden’s Ingmar Bergman, from the studio system directors who were part of the Hollywood establishment.

Though film-making, like the theatre and opera, is collaborative, the theory held that a director played the same role as the singular creator of a work as an artist or novelist.

Further development of the theory, often embellished by the French New Wave directors themselves such as François Truffaut, was then applied to the Hollywood directors of the decades when the studio system was at its peak.

Not everyone agreed, of course, given Hollywood also had huge talents among its screenwriters, cinematographers and even producers.

That debate continues today, as films are judged on a number of grounds and for the various contributions of the entire team.

The task becomes even more difficult with modern blockbusters. They have teams of writers, graphic artists and, judging by the many hundreds of names in the credits, are made by enough people to populate entire towns.

Yet even in these big budget productions, a sole director can often make a difference that can be attributed to his or her distinct contribution.

Whether that was intended with Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok cannot be known. But those familiar with Boy.

What we do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, will recognise examples of his improvisational humour and his deadpan Kiwi accent behind one of the fantastical characters. Waititi was able to develop his personal style in low budget films, where individuality is not only encouraged, but is a necessity. Greek-born director Yorgos Lanthimos has made only a handful of features, three of which (Dogtooth, Alps and The Lobster) have only been seen here in festivals.

His latest, The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Madman), made its debut at Cannes and will get a commercial release. This is partly because it is set in a mid-west American city and is packaged as a slick domestic thriller with a cast starring Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman.

But as the title suggests — it is a reference to a classical Greek tale — there is much more to the story than a medical misadventure resulting in death and the consequences of a revenge plot.

Lanthimos, who co-wrote the script, exaggerates the language while suppressing the actors’ delivery, resulting in extreme situations seeming far less bizarre that they really are.

These are also characteristics of The Lobster, which achieved the rare mix of pleasing and repelling viewers at the same time. Farrell, as the hapless surgeon, and Kidman, in a revival of her Stepford-wife role, are both excellent as the drama builds to its tragic climax. So, too, are the juvenile victims — the couple’s son and daughter as well as the heart patient’s son.

Rating: Restricted to audiences over 16. 120 minutes

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Nevil Gibson

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