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Kinds of Kindness (Searchlight Pictures) [Film Review]

Yorgos Lanthimos is back with ‘Kinds of Kindness,’ his latest film with Emma Stone, a worthwhile entry into an impressive filmography.

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Kinds of Kindness movie still

After the runaway success and multi-award-winning achievement of Poor Things last year, Yorgos Lanthimos’ new film Kinds of Kindness (info on IDMB) defines the term “much anticipated.” That is particularly the case as it also sees the return of Lanthimos’ new muses, Emma Stone and Willem Dafoe.

Lacking the phantasmagorical elements of its predecessor by being set in present-day America, it is equally strange in its utterly surreal scenarios and brutally controlling characters.

Being a portmanteau film, a genre that often struggles to hold an audience due to its episodic nature (two walked out of the screening I attended), Lanthimos has a job to ensure that all the characters are engaging despite their sheer toxic awfulness.

Using the same actors playing different characters in each segment helps. That’s especially true when the likes of Stone, Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, and the unexpected star turn here, Jesse Plemons, are so compelling to watch.

Plemons has offered smouldering performances in recent years in such big hitters as Killers of the Flower Moon and Civil War. But here he finally gets to show his true range with three incredibly diverse roles, each one as mesmerizing as the last. He matches both Stone and Dafoe in his intensity.

The film is unnerving from the start, with a story (The Death of R.M.F.) of Plemon’s hitman, who is presented with a set of instructions so bizarre he finds the demands of his employer, a horribly salacious Dafoe, just too much to complete. The consequences are as twisted as you would expect from a Lanthimos picture. There will be blood.

The second tale (R.M.F. is Flying) finds Plemons reunited with his wife (Stone) after her long disappearance. On her return, he can’t quite believe it’s her. Her feet have grown and she has developed an unusual desire for chocolate cake. Again, what follows defies belief.

Kinds of Kindness movie still

Kinds of Kindness movie still

The final tale (R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich) starts like a perfect mix of The X Files and Twin Peaks but soon even surpasses their parameters. What starts with a search for a woman who can resurrect the dead, soon develops into a bizarre episode concerning a curious cult led by Dafoe in possibly his most “out there” performance yet.

The idea of a portmanteau film is nothing new; see D.W Griffith’s Intolerance (1916) for proof of that. This, however, borrows strongly from the 1960/1970s Amicus horror movies that thrilled audiences with their blood-curdling tales of bloody revenge and redemption on a shoestring budget. Where these movies had a narrative device between tales, often with a narrator or a group of people trapped in a vault or a lift, Kinds of Kindness uses less forced themes of control and madness to bring these three stories together, punctuated merely by a rollcall of the actors.

Whilst based on an original script by Lanthimos and collaborator Efthimis Filippou, there is an unmissable nod to the books of J.G Ballard, particularly Crash in story one and The Atrocity Exhibition in the final section. The middle tale feels like an amalgamation of his many short stories. This is a theme that was also apparent in last year’s Infinity Pool. Fantasy and gothic horror fluidly mix with science fiction and fable. Some moments are genuinely difficult to endure, both for sheer awkwardness or out-and-out grossness.

Anyone expecting another Poor Things may be disappointed as Kinds of Kindness feels much more like a throwback to the director’s earlier work, particularly The Lobster or The Killing of a Sacred Deer. There are even elements of his much earlier Greek language projects (Dogtooth, Alps, Attenburg).

What the film does achieve is something that David Lynch was previously the master of, and that is bringing surrealism to the masses. Not everyone will embrace this, as this screening proved. But Lanthimos’ work is so much more refreshing than much more earnest efforts in the Hollywood style.

The stilted performances of the characters, almost a narcissistic exercise in “bad” acting, have been the staple of all his films so far, but perhaps this is the most extreme example. A doctor in the second story barely gets his words out, so fragile is his delivery with all the wrong intonations. It’s a trait that Wes Anderson also follows to a more accessible level.

Emma Stone once again dazzles. Her kooky teen persona from Easy A and her charming star qualities from La La Land and The Amazing Spider-Man are long gone under the demands of her mentor, Lanthimos. From The Favourite to Kinds of Kindness, she has become “strange.” Her trademark eyes appear to have grown even larger as she becomes the new Bette Davis.

Lanthimos does appear to fetishize Stone’s body in the two most recent films in a way that does become a little cloying. But Stone appears to willingly use her body entirely to project her characters fully into their increasingly bizarre scenarios. At the very least, these performances are brave.

Dafoe equally becomes stranger, but it is without a doubt that Jesse Plemons will be the focus of the awards this time round. Looking every part the everyman, he still manages to dig deep into the darkest recesses of his soul and present sinister, odd and disturbing elements in a way that even Crispin Glover would struggle to match.

Not as immediately engaging as Poor Things, but certainly Kinds of Kindness has its pitch-black charms and equally dark humour and will demand repeated viewings.

‘Kinds of Kindness’ movie poster

‘Kinds of Kindness’ movie poster

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writer: Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou
Starring: Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Jesse Plemons, Margaret Qualley
Production Company: Film 4, Fox Searchlight
Distributed by: Searchlight Pictures
Release Date: June 28th, 2024
Run Time: 164 mins

Del Pike is a University lecturer in Film and Media in Liverpool (UK). He writes film, music, art, literature and culture articles and reviews for a number of websites. Del loves nothing more than snuggling down in a dark cinema, getting sweaty at  a live gig or drifting off late at night to a good book. He loves cats. He enjoys promoting new talent online so please say hi if you have something to show.

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