Out on Friday November 3
A step yet further into the deadpan weird from Yorgos Lanthimos. A deep analysis of Psycho’s shower scene. A re-release of Satoshi Kon’s trippy anime horror.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Murder on the Orient Express, 78/52, Thelma, Perfect Blue, The Shining, Ferrari: Race to Immortality, Rise of the Footsoldier: The Pat Tate Story, The Silence of the Lambs, Sorcerer, The Stolen, and A Bad Moms Christmas.
For the best movie reviews, subscribe to Total Film (opens in new tab).
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
If you’ve seen Dogtooth (opens in new tab) (2009) or The Lobster (opens in new tab) (2015), you’ll know that mere prosaic plausibility doesn’t bother Yorgos Lanthimos too much. And his latest film pushes the boundaries of bizarre yet further. Colin Farrell, in his second film for the Greek-born director (following The Lobster), plays Steven Murphy, a successful Cincinnati surgeon.
Murphy seems to have an ideal family life – a lovely wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman), plus two bright kids, Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic) – even if they do all address each other in oddly stilted, near-robotic tones.
But he also has a mysterious relationship with a saturnine 16-yearold, Martin (Dunkirk (opens in new tab)’s Barry Keoghan), whom he meets in scruffy downtown diners and lavishes with expensive gifts. So who is Martin – Steven’s toyboy? Oh, nothing as straightforward as that. Seems Martin’s dad died on the operating table and Steven feels responsible.
So he introduces the lad to his family. Bad move. Not content with seducing Kim and trying to manoeuvre Steven into bed with his mother (a briefly glimpsed Alicia Silverstone – excellent), Martin tells Steven what he must do: choose one member of his family to kill by way of making amends for his dad’s death. Failing that, they’ll each lose the use of their legs, then bleed at the eyes – and then die. And that’s exactly what starts to happen…
Crossing Sophie’s Choice (opens in new tab) with Cape Fear (opens in new tab), and turning up the chill factor several notches, Killing met with boos no less than cheers at Cannes, where it shared the Best Screenplay prize with You Were Never Really Here (opens in new tab). Easy to understand the mixed response; Lanthimos doesn’t do likeable, and nor do his characters. Least of all Steven, who often seems like he’s had his social conscience surgically excised. This is a man whose idea of party chat is, “Our daughter started menstruating last week,” and who, when his hospitalised son refuses food, threatens to make him eat his shaved-off hair.
Conversation, even at moments of high tension, meanders around inconsequential subjects – whether a metal watch-strap is better than a leather one, or ways of eating spaghetti. Lanthimos lets his camera track slowly in and out, fixing scenes with its cool clinical gaze, while on the soundtrack, modernistic pieces by the likes of Kubrick favourite György Ligeti clash and shudder.
Oh, and that title? It’s a reference to Greek mythology: after Agamemnon killed a deer belonging to Artemis, the goddess made him atone by sacrificing his daughter Iphigenia.
THE VERDICT: A step yet further into the deadpan weird from Yorgos Lanthimos. Disturbing and often distressing, but compulsively watchable.
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos; Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan; Theatrical release: November 3, 2017
Murder on the Orient Express
In 1934, Agatha Christie stoked up a standard locked-room mystery by setting it on the titular steam locomotive as it hurtles from Istanbul to Calais. Four decades on, Kenneth Branagh finds interesting ways to grease the wheels of this new take on the oft-filmed novel.
The plot, though, essentially remains the same. Legendary Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) accompanies his stupendous moustache aboard the famous train to join a throng of colourful characters: Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench); businessman Samuel Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp) and his assistant Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad); widow Mrs. Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer); Professor Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe); missionary Pilar Estravados (Penélope Cruz); Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr.); butler Edward Masterman (Derek Jacobi); maid Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman); car salesman Marquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo); Count and Countess Andrenyi (Sergei Polunin, Lucy Boynton); and governess Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley).
No sooner has Poirot settled into his bunk than there are bumps in the night. The next morning, one of the passengers is discovered dead in a locked cabin, and the Belgian bloodhound starts sniffing for clues. “If there was a murder, there was a murderer,” he cunningly surmises. “The murderer is with us and every one of you is a suspect.”
With nowhere to go – the train totters upon a towering trestle, derailed by a mini-avalanche – the scene is set for a handsomely old-fashioned whodunit full of larger-than-life characterisation, deep-buried secrets and devilish deduction. One by one Poirot interrogates his fellow travellers, sifting through their obfuscatory answers and a fistful of hard clues to piece together a startling revelation.
Shooting in 65mm, Branagh delivers all of the eye-saucering exteriors you’d expect, as mountaintops soar, sunlight glints at the end of tunnels and stations snuggle under a duvet of blue snow. More pleasing still is how well the format adapts to the cramped confines of the locomotive – elegant tracking shots navigate the space smoothly, the discovery of the murder scene is shot from above à la Hitchcock or De Palma, and close-ups perform keyhole surgery through every pore to scrutinise souls.
The script, by Blade Runner 2049’s Michael Green, throws in a few mischievous surprises and works hard to make Christie’s novel relevant to our troubled times as our protagonists’ dalliance with death brings out tensions and prejudices. Branagh’s take on Poirot allows room for fear, uncertainty and lost love, and duality is frequently suggested via reflections in glass and chrome – a technique overused in movies, no doubt, but one befitting such a classic narrative.
For all the fun, adventure and IMAX-sized images on display, there’s a whiff of Sunday-afternoon telly about Branagh’s reboot. Still, it can’t hurt that the on-form cast rivals the star power of Sidney Lumet’s 1974 ensemble, and a playful coda sets up a sequel. Might Poirot be pitching his wits against Avengers, Jedi and the Fast and the Furious family for years to come?
THE VERDICT: A glittery ensemble cast relishes the snow-saturated journey of starring in Sir Ken’s polished, frisky version of Christie’s seminal whodunit. All aboard...
Director: Kenneth Branagh; Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley; Theatrical release: November 3, 2017
“These days, you’re lucky if you have one day to kill someone,” joshes Hardware (1990) director Richard Stanley, marvelling at the week Hitchcock spent shooting the shower scene in 1960’s Psycho. Director Alexandre O. Philippe (Doc of the Dead (opens in new tab)) devotes a film to Janet Leigh’s personal-hygiene hell in a splendidly geeky docu-tribute, turning what could have been a decent disc extra into a lively, loving case for Psycho’s perfect-storm impact.
Proof of genuine Psycho-love shows in the quality of commentators, ranging from Leigh’s body double to biographers, critics, stars, directors and beyond. If historical context is somewhat broadly set, film-centric developments focus Philippe’s pitch. Guillermo del Toro honours Psycho’s assault on director/audience trust; others note Hitch’s competitive urge to penetrate film history.
His pan oh-so dead, Hitchcock called the scene “a big joke”. But his attention to detail suggests he wasn’t kidding – and close study unpicks how the scene’s 78 setups and 52 cuts lock tight with surrounding material to pack an iconic punch. Melons, music, the minutiae of Anthony Perkins’ lead and the male gaze number among other themes warmly explored. A montage of copycat clips, meanwhile, makes this clear: Hitch’s cruellest cut is the kill that keeps on killing.
THE VERDICT: Does for Norman’s place what Room 237 (opens in new tab) did for the Overlook: reopens old haunts for welcome re-investigation.
Director: Alexandre O. Philippe; Starring: Alan Barnette, Justin Benson, Peter Bogdanovich; Theatrical release: November 3, 2017
Telekinesis and tenderness merge in Joachim Trier’s conflation of Carrie and coming-out drama. Eili Harboe is subtly heartbreaking as innocent Christian Thelma, whose suppressed sexuality and hidden powers jolt her sideways at uni.
A meditation on repressed desire with deep secrets, Thelma throbs with hypnotic intensity: it burns slow, but its magnetism holds right up to the teasing climax.
Director: Joachim Trier; Starring: Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelsen; Theatrical release: November 3, 2017
Vivid, colourful animation belies a dark, disturbing core in this cryptic anime receiving a 20th anniversary re-release. Giving up music to become a serious actress, pop idol Mima undergoes a severe identity crisis.
Toggling between scenes from Mima’s movie, her increasing delusions and a genuine, stalker-based threat, Satoshi Kon’s film deliberately obfuscates, to hypnotic effect.
Director: Satoshi Kon; Starring: Junko Iwao, Rica Matsumoto, Shinpachi Tsuji; Theatrical release: October 31, 2017
Stephen King had a point when he bemoaned the “lack of emotional investment” in Kubrick’s 1980 adap of his novel. But it’s also one of the finest horror movies, attaining vertiginous levels of terror as Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) goes batshit in the Overlook Hotel.
With each scene shot ad nauseum – 60 bathroom doors got axed – The Shining buzzes madness and malevolence from every frame.
Director: Stanley Kubrick; Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd; Theatrical release: October 31, 2017
Ferrari: Race to Immortality
Taking its title from Ferrari founder Enzo Ferrari’s claim that his F1 drivers would become immortal, whether they won or died, this slick doc tells the stories of two of the team’s finest ’50s racers, Brits Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins.
Blending archive footage, contemporary interviews and dramatic reconstructions, the film reminds us how dangerous the sport could be.
Director: Daryl Goodrich; Theatrical release: November 3, 2017
Rise of the Footsoldier: The Pat Tate Story
Number three in the Footsoldier saga is a prequel to the hateful 2007 Essex gangster flick that made DVD heroes out of real-life murderers.
Fans will enjoy 90 minutes of neckless spray-tans hitting each other with hammers (this time with an ’80s soundtrack and a Shaun Ryder cameo), but most people have better things to do.
Director: Zackary Adler; Starring: Craig Fairbrass, Terry Stone, Roland Manookian; Theatrical release: November 3, 2017
The Silence of the Lambs
FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), brainiac cannibal Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) and tackle-tucking serial killer Jame Gumb (Ted Levine) make for one of cinema’s great ménages à trois.
Here given a 4K restoration, Jonathan Demme’s masterly 1991 thriller survives the three inferior Lecter movies and Bryan Fuller’s NBC show that followed.
Director: Jonathan Demme; Starring: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Lawrence A. Bonney; Theatrical release: November 3, 2017
Based on the same novel as The Wages of Fear, William Friedkin’s 1977 thriller about fugitives in Latin America was buried by Star Wars, panned by critics, and drags like an arthritic snail.
It also contains two of the most astounding sequences in cinema, featuring a dynamited tree and a storm-lashed truck on a splintering rope bridge – which may be reason enough to catch this re-release.
Director: William Friedkin; Starring: Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal; Theatrical release: November 3, 2017
Alice Eve’s wealthy Englishwoman heads into the wilds of 1860s New Zealand to find her kidnapped baby in a western as inept as it is preposterous.
Largely set in a hive of scum and villainy that makes Deadwood seem sedate, it sees Eve’s widow unite with hoofers, whores and a tomahawk-wielding Maori against a baddie who dresses like Ross Poldark. Richard O’Brien adds some liveliness as a lascivious pimp.
Director: Niall Johnson; Starring: Alice Eve, Graham McTavish, Jack Davenport; Theatrical release: November 3, 2017
A Bad Moms Christmas
Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn deck the halls for their critic-proof sequel, this time battling their own mamas (Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines, Susan Sarandon).
While the film lacks Christina Applegate’s razor-sharp delivery (though she gets a LOL-worthy cameo) and most of the plot doesn’t make sense, the older ladies warrant a Bad Grans spin-off.
Directors: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore; Starring: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn; Theatrical release: November 1, 2017