Anyone who has seen The Lobster – which I wholeheartedly recommend you do – will have an inkling of what to expect from Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest film. That is if you can imagine the slow, ominous oddity of The Lobster cross-bred with the domestic horror of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. It is a ghastly, grisly, and in moments, darkly comic film, which is not for the faint of heart. Or for those who insist on having both feet planted firmly in universes dictated by logic, or empathy, for that matter. Based loosely on the Greek myth “Iphigenia”, this psychological horror is riddled with the absurdity, vengeance and cruelty of Greek tragedy. It is deeply unsettling; making us feel like flies on the wall of a slowly unfolding tragedy which will one day keep a nation of news-watchers lying awake at night.
The story follows Cardiac surgeon Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), and his Wife, (Nicole Kidman) as the mistakes of his past seep into and eat away at his peaceful domestic life. Set in affluent suburban homes and massive, minimal modern hospitals, monuments to man’s control, the film chips away at the notion we have power over the course of our own lives. Having taken Martin, (Barry Keoghan), the teenage son of a former patient under his wing, the once absolute control and order that had characterized Stevens’ existence begins to fall apart. Martin weevils his way into the lives of Steven’s family with chilling ease, and cleaves at their connections effortlessly. With an unnerving and affecting register similar to that of Truman Capote, Keoghan delivers a performance which could very well haunt you. There is no “normal” human connection in this film. Martin is perplexing and convincing, and the film broods and ekes its way through dialogue, which is clinically exchanged and delivered deliberately mechanically by its actors. Typical of Greek classics, every relationship can be dissected to reveal something disturbed, from Oedipal complexes to borderline necrophiliac tendencies or even darker. Having delivered a speech at a glittering gala dinner, Steven informs his colleague abruptly, “our daughter started menstruating last week”, while hurriedly reeling off information in his allocated social time, that bizarre comment garnering no reactions in this strange universe.
The tension build up begins the moment the film opens. Starting as he means to go on, Lanthimos presents the audience with a God-view of a surgery, and makes us squirm and baulk at man’s propensity to approach gore and mortality clinically. Strikingly similar in tone to the soundtracks of Stanley Kubrick’s’ classics 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining, it is a taut tendon, a high pitch violin strung up behind all conversations from the first scene onwards, refusing to let us be lulled into a sense of ease. It hovers and builds, colouring what might pass for realism as deeply disturbing.
Ultimately, as with Lanthimos’ previous films, we must embrace absurdity, and ignore the burning questions that demand logic is adhered to in order to experience the film, and its searing message that mankind can be achingly cold and vengeful fully. Much like we accepted a person can become a dog in The Lobster, we must accept the mysterious omnipotence of the antagonist, and we can at least be thankful that we are not members of the Murphy family.