The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017): A horrifyingly impersonal tale of revenge

Release date_ 29 December 2017Director_ Mohsin AliCast_ Ahsan Khan, Neelam Muneer, Faizan Khawaja, Talat Hussain


Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest endeavor is a modern retelling of Euripides’s Iphigenia in Aulis. It is a Greek tragedy set in a sterile, contemporary setting, accompanied by Lanthimos’s signature stoic characters and off-beat movements. Colin Farrell plays a cardiac surgeon called Steven Murphy whose fatherly relationship with the son of one of his deceased patients takes a sinister turn.


Right from the start, we can tell something is off about the whole thing, due to the ominous music in the background and the boy Martin’s (played unnervingly by Barry Keoghan) off-putting earnestness. He stands out like a sore thumb when visiting Murphy’s family in their palatial home. Yet he carries himself with a peculiar sense of assurance. Eventually, the source of that assurance is revealed, when Martin admits he is exacting revenge on Murphy, whom he holds responsible for his father’s death. The method of revenge is horrifying in its justice and yet feels impersonal.


Like a Greek tragedy, the story invokes pity and fear as we watch Murphy grapple with the terrible choice he must make. Eventually we long for the punishment just so Murphy’s agony can end. The title alludes to the death of the sacred deer of goddess Artemis, which Agamemnon was responsible for. I won’t reveal the penalty for that sin here, as it would be a bit of a spoiler. But you don’t need to be well-versed in Greek tragedy to feel the full impact of this body horror, and to recognize the mythological elements at play: the way things progressively and unrelentingly worsen, the looming judgment, the father who must pay for his wrongdoings, and the family at his mercy.

Nicole Kidman is the perfect addition to this film, as an ophthalmologist, and mother and wife. She is pale and soft, but as she watches her children and husband in agony, she becomes hard and brittle. Her desperation and disbelief come through her acting without any melodrama, and even though she says little, it is easy to see she knows and understands more than she lets on. At the same time, her character takes unexpected turns, and she is more than a stereotypical mother figure.


Lanthimos’s effort is considerably darker than the black comedy and romance The Lobster, which also featured Farrell. Sacred Deer is an engrossing psychological horror film. It may take a while to understand where the film is headed, and to appreciate the filmmaker’s odd direction, but it’s well worth the effort.



SICARIO (2015): The land of wolves


Sicario is another crime-thriller that deals with the subject of drug wars. The screenplay is by Tylor Sherindan; which should be enough to convince you into watching the film. The lead cast includes Emily Blunt as Kate, Benicio del Toro as Alejandro and Josh Brolin as Matt. Daniel Kaluuya is also seen as Kate’s partner.

Kate is an FBI agent who raids safe-houses in order to bust drug dealers. But it is more than just drugs and junkies. The war between the drug cartels has become ruthless and a danger to the local people. Matt is a CIA adviser who takes the help of Kate in order to take out the top leader of the Sonora cartel. Meanwhile, Alejandro’s past and present remains a mystery to Kate. With these two, Kate goes on a surreal journey that makes her question their actions.


Kate is a bright officer who is a woman of principles and does everything by the book. In Matt and Alejandro’s work, however, the ‘boundary has been moved’, as Kate’s boss says it himself. It is not just Kate who can’t decide, it is us the viewers as well who, throughout the film, find ourselves questioning what we are seeing and wondering if it’s right or wrong. Both Matt and Alejandro are morally gray characters who represent our system. At the end of the day, we all must decide if we are ready to do what has to be done for the greater good. But we can’t help but ask ourselves, what exactly is the greater good?

We see everything through Kate’s eyes, we perceive it as she does, and we are left as confused as she is. Kate’s conflict is our own. At the end, Sicario also reminds us of the expression that ‘revenge is a dish best served cold’.


I love movies that make you sit on the edge of your seat and, after you have finished watching, you can’t stop thinking about it. While watching Sicario, I was shook, and that was just during the first sequence. The film had some impressive shots, especially the scene of the tunnel raid was really well done. It actually demonstrated Kate’s descent into darkness.



The crimes that were shown in the movie were haunting. In the scenes that take place in Juarez, one could actually feel the danger closing in. Credit for that goes not only to the direction but Jóhann Jóhannsson too, who composed the music score.

In any movie, an actual touch of reality/history helps increase the emotional effect of the film. The scene  in Juarez with the walls plastered with posters of missing women hints to the actual events that have happened where hundreds of women had disappeared. It is sad how in any war, the decisions are made by the powerful men at the top, while the masses have to bear the brunt of it.

While the film excels at other aspects, it somehow falls behind at Character development. Kate’s character remains kind of flat and we are left wanting some answers.

Del Toro, Brolin and Blunt gave a brilliant performance, each better than the other. There are some amazing aerial shots of the landscape. Just like Denis Villeneuve’s other films that I have seen up till now (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049 and Prisoners), Sicario is a work of art.

Chupan Chupai (2017): when can we have a smart comedy that does NOT resort misogyny?

Release date_ 29 December 2017Director_ Mohsin AliCast_ Ahsan Khan, Neelam Muneer, Faizan Khawaja, Talat Hussain(1)

I went to see Chupan Chupai for two reasons Firstly, I always try and see Pakistani films in the cinema, no matter how much they suck, because I think it’s important to support our artists. Secondly, Verna was was sold out.


The premise wasn’t very intriguing (as the title suggested) and I am usually wary of Pakistani comedy films because there’s a fine line between hilarious and crass. And that line is often overstepped. To make things worse, there was only one woman on the poster, scantily clad, flanked by five men. But it’s still a Pakistani film and I was willing to give them a chance. (Later, I learned that Chupan Chupai is a remake of a Tamil film called Soodhu Kavvum (Evil Will Befall). Oh.)

The film opens with three broke friends. There’s the classic hard-working nerd, the hysterical screw-up, and the dark and mysterious brooding type. The first one loses his job after being wrongly accused of sexual harassment at this workplace by a conniving female colleague (excellent political timing for that plot-line). The friends are now out of money and need to make some fast.


Fortunately, at a brawl at a dhabba, they run into Ahsan Khan’s character and his girlfriend, played by Neelam Muneer. This is where the film becomes a wild disappointment. I realized that the only important female character here is actually Ahsan Khan’s imaginary girlfriend. That’s right: she doesn’t even exist. The trope of the manic pixie dream girl reaches a new height, as Muneer only appears as Khan’s fantasy, which usually involves her as a half-dressed, swooning, air-headed bimbo. Let’s remember, the last woman we encountered lied about sexual harassment. The next woman we’ll we see is a mother who protects and defends her son’s corruption and swindling.

This is what happens when you don’t have any women in the writing room. Or any intelligent men for that matter.


The two parties team up and form a gang that kidnaps people for small ransoms. Then one day they are approached by a client who offers them money to carry out a risky kidnapping. Here’s where things go south, and the plot thickens.

You can watch Chupan Chupai for some unexpected and refreshing humor, interesting cinematography and great acting. But don’t expect any sort of nuance about gender relations. The film came out in late 2017. Come on guys, keep up.



Baby Driver (2017): The movie you want to watch


Baby Driver is a classic Car-chase flick that is the perfect blend of action, romance and comedy. The cast includes Ansel Elgort as ‘Baby’ and Lily James as our usual girl-next-door. Jamie Foxx plays the character named Bats, who is as crazy as his name. Jon Hamm’s acting is commendable as his character unfolds in front of us. Directed by Edgar Wright, not only the storyline grabs our attention but the cinematography is also pleasing to watch as there are some amazing shots in the movie.


Baby Driver is about a guy who was roped into being a getaway driver when he was very young. Baby is the perfect man for his job and has the perfect song for every situation whether it is his work or his love life. He cannot go through the day without syncing his playlist with every moment he lives. Ultimately, a heist goes wrong that changes the life of every person involved.



The film’s plot is fresh and enjoyable. It deals with themes of crime, loss and love. We get to know about the main lead’s trauma of losing his parents at a young age and how he tries to cope up with it. It makes us think how sometimes dealing with our pain can block us from the outer world; the real world. Most importantly, behind all the crime and action, the movie is about love. We have two love stories that remind us of the phrase that ‘home is where love is’.


The only problem in the movie could be that some of the characters are far too unrealistic. Sure, the love story of Baby and Deborah is beautiful, but because it remains a little underdeveloped, the whole situation seems a little far-fetched.

Almost all the movie has songs playing side by side, which makes it very enjoyable to watch. Not only the songs are chosen perfectly but the choreography is done really well too. This is the first character Ansel played that I truly enjoyed, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing him on the big screen again. After Ant-Man, Edgar Wright has made another beautiful movie that, in my opinion, ranks among the top films of 2017.

The Last Samurai (2003): A blast from the past


The last Samurai is about the Samurai culture that got lost during Japan’s transition into modern world. It is loosely based on the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877 and the Meiji Restoration of Japan. Even the characters of Nathan Algren and Katsumoto are loosely based on real life figures (the character of Nathan Algren was actually French). The film is pretty solid considering the acting and the action sequences are up to the par. Tom Cruise plays the main lead as an American soldier along with Ken Watanabe as the Samurai leader.


The story is set in late 19th century where the Japanese businessmen want to rid the country of the Samurai, the officer caste of medieval and early-modern Japan. The samurai, on the other hand, are in a rebellion and want their power back so their traditional ways are restored. Nathan Algren, a drunk with military history, is hired to lead the Japanese army against the rebellion. During the fight, he is taken prisoner by the Samurai but instead he is touched by their way of living.


The theme of war is apparent in the film and how the horrors of it never leave those who have had a firsthand experience of it. Algren has a troubled past so the peace and tranquility of the valleys and meditation practiced by the Samurai give him the peace he long yearned for. As the story progresses and the past repeats, he finds himself in a conflict.

The details of history shown in the movie are not very accurate and the samurai rebellion that happened gradually through the years has been shown happening in the span of a single year. Obviously, isolating the country and rejecting modernization might not be the best idea. Japan had tried to keep the traders away since forever due to the fear of loss of traditional values. Ultimately in mid-19th century they opened up trade and allowed the foreigners in. In order to understand samurai’s rebellion and anger, one has to understand how honorable they were and how threatened they felt when their way of life was being abolished. They had been in power for a long time and suddenly it was being taken away from them. Therefore, it started a civil war that ended with the final battle of Shiroyama in September 1877. Many samurai in actual history moved along and joined the government but some couldn’t get past it.


One can argue how the movie was supposed to be about Japanese culture, but instead at the end it seemed to be made out more about Algren. He is the narrator but he has more to contribute to the plot line than the actual samurai. The only noticeable female character in the movie is Taka (Koyuki), whose character had potential but instead she is reduced to someone needed to fill the romantic story line.


As a film that is supposed to entertain you, The Last Samurai doesn’t disappoint. It might be Tom Cruise’s finest performance along with Ken Watanabe’s, who also appeared in Inception. The scenery is beautiful and serene.  The score is also heart touching as Hans Zimmer never disappoints.

The Lobster (2015): One of the more odder dystopian love stories

 gradeThe Lobster is a dark comedy that is as uncanny as its name suggests. Armed with a bizarre plot line, a promising cast, and an off-kilter sense of humor, the film will leave you bemused and amused in equal measure.

We see Colin Farrell in the lead role of a man named David, accompanied by Rachel Weisz’s hilariously emotionless narration (she herself does not show up until the second half of the film, as an unnamed shortsighted woman). The cast also includes Lea Séydoux (Blue is the Warmest Color), Ben Whishaw (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer) and Jessica Barden (Penny Dreadful).


The film is set in a dystopian society where it is believed that people should only live in pairs. Therefore, single men and women are forced to spend a specific amount of time in a hotel where they have to find a partner for themselves so they can live peacefully in the city. Failure to do so would result in them being turned into an animal of their choice. The whole movie follows David, a recently divorced man, who is under the pressure of finding a suitable partner if he wants to be a human for his remaining life.


The hotel is the prison of marriage and coupledom, while the countryside surrounding it represents the openness and wilderness of single life. There is no structure outside, but there are strict rules: no mating is allowed. David and Shortsighted Woman find themselves hopelessly in love with each other, out in the wild. They work out a secret sign language to communicate with each other around everyone. But suddenly, something changes, and their love is truly tested.


The film is, in equal parts, strange and moving. Wrought with symbolism, it navigates a softly beautiful – sometimes dark –  love story with a bizarre and off-beat sense of humor. But at the same time, certain aspect simply don’t work. Unbelievably, Weisz is not as captivating as you would expect her to be in a role like this. She falls flat. Farrell’s monochromatic acting, meant to convey the film’s absurd logic, feels empty. The film tries so hard to be that difficult mix of strange and hilarious, it can get a little exhausting. There is a smug sense of self-congratulation to the whole ordeal, that quickly makes the movie less endearing and slightly more irksome.



While certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, The Lobster is still unforgettable because of its peculiar yet refreshing plot line. What strikes us is the acting and the fact that at times we are not sure whether to laugh at or sympathize with the characters, who are deeply flawed and vulnerable. This is Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’s fifth feature film, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. It isn’t hard to see why.



Wind River (2017): An emotional crime drama that leaves us awestruck


Wind River is easily one of the best films of 2017. I expected it to be a gripping murder mystery but it was that and much more. The plot revolves around the murder of a Native American woman who is found dead under mysterious circumstances. The two main cast members are Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen who give one of their best performances.


Cory Lambert is a hunter\tracker in Wind River Indian Reservation, who is also mourning the death of his recently deceased daughter Emily. While on one of his hunts, he accidentally stumbles upon a frozen body of a woman in the snow who had died due to exposure. At least that’s the official reason. A FBI special agent Jane Banner arrives at the crime scene who is determined to bring the culprits to justice.

In Wind River, Wyoming, the only enemies aren’t the bad guys but the harsh weather conditions as well. If a person is lucky enough to evade one of them, the other is there to swallow him or her up. Cory feels deeply about the murder of Natalie because she was also Emily’s best friend. He wants to hunt the predator responsible not only because it is the moral thing to do, but also because he sees this as a form of redemption and closure.


Wind River talks about the male privilege and women oppression. It reminds us of Spivak’s Subaltern studies where she points out how black women remain at the bottom of the social hierarchy. They have to bear racism and social oppression as well as sexism, so they are oppressed twice. Also we get to see the difficult conditions in which Native American people are forced to live in.


The main purpose of the film is to bring to light the fact that many Native American women go missing yearly but no one knows the statistics as these disappearances are never recorded, let alone solved. We have had movies concerning rape cases and murder cases but not many talk about the plight of the indigenous women.

After Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan has managed to produce yet another masterpiece. The cast is great and everyone puts in their best. The background music is chilling and sinister and the landscape is beautiful.

What works? Wind River is a perfect thriller with heart wrenching performances and a strong plot.

What doesn’t work?  Very little doesn’t work. Some scenes could have been better shot as they can get a little confusing.

Does it pass the Bechdel Test? Yes. In one scene Emily’s grandmother talks to Jane about the clothes she is lending her.

Who should watch this movie? If you don’t shy away from dark mysteries and thrillers, this one’s a must watch.