4 out of 5 stars

A broken, yet highly valuable tennis racquet. A severed finger. In Kinds of Kindness, dogs drink through straws, hedgehogs are kept as exotic pets, and cults judge the sanctity of a person’s body by tasting their sweat. This is the dark, absurdist comedy of Yorgos Lanthimos (Poor Things), one of cinema’s most fascinating contemporary directors.

Across three distinct stories that span this almost three-hour epic, nothing is quite as it seems. A man is requested to initiate a car crash, a woman is suspected of being an impostor, and a clandestine search for a magical healer all serve as a compelling plot, while other bizarre, unfathomable happenings simmer beneath the surface.

Kinds of Kindness feels like a dark, twisted fairy tale. There’s something acutely off about Lanthimos’s cinema, something that makes it a genre unto itself. Lanthimos’s latest outing is a tour de force of the weird; a celebration of the inexplicable, disturbing, and perverse. Though Kinds of Kindness may not be his best film, it’s undoubtedly a formidable calling card: if you want to know what this filmmaker is all about, his latest endeavour isn’t a bad place to start.

It would be naive to assume that this film will please everyone; some will adore it, while others will likely consider it a waste of time. Falling into the former category, it seems the Greek Weird Wave director is returning to his roots: this is perhaps his most inscrutable work to date. While Dogtooth (2009) established Lanthimos as an auteur with a penchant for offbeat humour and cryptic narratives, Kinds of Kindness is utterly impenetrable. Characters resemble animals or aliens more than people, with their motivations remaining hidden, incomprehensible, or obscure.

For those who have enjoyed Lanthimos’s career since its inception (or at least since his groundbreaking work 15 years ago), Kinds of Kindness will be another intriguing, perplexing treat. However, if you have only really paid attention to the Greek auteur since his critically acclaimed Poor Things (2023), then Kinds of Kindness may be a disappointing affair. It lacks the same cohesive story and has a much slower pace. Though Lanthimos appeared to make something of a move towards more mainstream work in Poor Things and The Favourite (2018), Kinds of Kindness represents a return to abstruse cinema.

But then, what precisely makes Lanthimos’s filmmaking so unique? His stories, though demonstrating stylistic range, often serve as existentialist nightmares, providing the viewer with a terrible sense of cosmic claustrophobia; in these worlds, oppressive forces bear down on hapless souls, who try desperately to escape from under the thumbs of their tormentors.

Freedom is often shown to be an illusive entity: in Lanthimos’ cinema, the world is contained within heavy, steel bars. When characters escape their oppressors, it frequently results in a worsening of their circumstances, as seen in Dogtooth, Alps (2011), or The Lobster (2015). Even liberty, it seems, presents its challenges. Similarly, in Kinds of Kindness, freedom is foisted upon characters when they least expect it, creating all sorts of difficulties for them.

This is because Lanthimos’ world is wholly absurd. Chance occurrences and the arbitrary workings of fate permeate Kinds of Kindness, as they do his other work. The filmmaker considers the world to be an illogical, meaningless place, with the roles people play in life presenting itself as a prominent theme in his oeuvre. Films like Alps, The Lobster, and The Favourite all draw attention to the performativity of interactions in human relationships. We all wear masks that conceal our innermost desires, something the poster for Kinds of Kindness suggests.

In my opinion, Lanthimos’ cinema is some of the most important to come out in the 21st-century. His films consistently feature a wonderful blend of styles. Additionally, the rather arcane nature of his narratives, particularly in this latest effort, ensures there’s not a single moment where I’m not trying to piece things together. Why don’t her shoes fit? Does it matter? Is this entire sequence a paranoid delusion? We are never spoon-fed answers, which makes the viewing experience all the more invigorating with Lanthimos.

What’s more, I’ve never quite encountered a more peculiar sense of humour than in his work. It’s a cocktail of dark humour, drawing inspiration from the likes of the Coen brothers’ black comedy, Wes Anderson’s offbeat, zany characters, and the unsettlingly nihilistic laughs that can be found in Stanley Kubrick’s filmography.

Admittedly, Kinds of Kindness isn’t quite as funny as some of his other films. The jokes are too far between, though they certainly land well when they do. John McEnroe’s smashed tennis racket being revered as a wondrous gift is oddly hilarious. A painfully awkward dinner party elicits both giggles and cringes, and an auction including Formula 1 driver Senna’s scorched helmet becomes a shining example of the pitch-black comedy on display.

There’s also a preoccupation with sex in Lanthimos’s work, and Kinds of Kindness is no different—often in disturbing or amusing ways. While we can never be entirely sure of the relationships between some characters, their interactions often involve some form of sexual bonding, the purpose of which remains a mystery. This is a motif that can be traced back to Dogtooth, and it has been explored in almost all of his films to date; at this point, baffling, hilarious, or disturbing sexual acts are something to be at least expected in a Lanthimos film.

This is perhaps even hinted at in a completely bizarre sequence where we witness two dogs in mid-coitus on a human bed. Few filmmakers use animals in such comical ways as the Greek filmmaker. In Kinds of Kindness, dogs drink through straws, drive around town, and shampoo their curly fur in the shower. A close-up of a hedgehog’s nose becomes a portentous image, the black, beady eyes staring ominously as if gazing into a bleak future. Be it birds, rabbits, ferrets, or cats, Lanthimos can render them entirely original.

Speaking of original, the dialogue in Lanthimos’s films is something to behold. It can be either stilted and wooden, which can unsettle or confuse the viewer, or be so bewildering it simply becomes funny. This is best exemplified in a monologue a character gives about a dream she had, where canine overlords rule the Earth. We soon discover that her frank discussion about chocolate, lamb chops, and fear of survival is an allegory for marriage—we’re not sure whether to chuckle or regard her dream with awe.

It’s important to point out that Kinds of Kindness still functions as a movie. Strange though they are, we often try to interpret the alien behaviour of the people onscreen, hoping against hope that our scrutiny might reveal something important. There are moments of tension—a man anxiously glancing at his watch, a woman holding a kitchen knife, and a trip to the sauna all induce suspense in the audience—and an unusual form of humanity permeates the work. Though our characters occasionally don’t even feel like they are of the same species, we find we can connect with them all the same.

In this respect, Kinds of Kindness almost functions like a dark fairy tale. It possesses a supernatural, off-kilter atmosphere, demonstrates a shrewd understanding of dramatic structure, and features themes that can be found in any myth. Dreams, fears of doppelgangers, allusions to a Garden of Eden, Faustian bargains, and a search for a mystic healer dominate the three stories. Whereas The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) truly felt like a Greek tragedy, Kinds of Kindness feels more like a triptych of sad, disquieting myths placed in a modern setting.

So, where does this brilliant weirdo get inspiration from? There’s a touch of David Lynch in Lanthimos’ work. Kinds of Kindness in particular feels distinctly reminiscent of Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997), what with the emotionless conversation and a concern of identical twins, body swapping, and imposters. The cerebral, puzzling effect of Charlie Kaufman’s writing and directing—especially Synecdoche, New York (2008)—bears a strong resemblance to Lanthimos’ particular brand of surrealism.

Concerning the score, Jerskin Fendrix’s foreboding piano frequently has a perturbing quality. It bears a strong resemblance to the paranoid pianism that’s present in psychological thrillers from the 1990s, such as David Fincher’s The Game (1997) or Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999). A layer of intrigue and suspense is formed with a few piano keys being banged into an otherwise silent soundscape, occasionally bolstered by the baleful hymns of what sounds like a medieval choir.

Robbie Ryan’s cinematography is excellent, although it doesn’t quite capture the grand sense of scale that has defined Lanthimos’ last three features. The Killing of a Sacred DeerThe Favourite, and Poor Things all boast incredible shot composition, which was undeniably aided by the brilliant production design.

In contrast, Kinds of Kindness feels like a smaller film, which is reflected in the cinematography. However, Ryan’s long takes—including the protracted static shot in the opening sequence that unsettles in much the same way as the opening shot of Michael Haneke’s Caché (2005)—succeed in creating a sense of scope and variety within a film that is mostly shot at medium range.

Finally, long-time collaborator and gifted editor Yorgos Mavropsaridis crafts some of the film’s most memorable sequences. These include the brilliantly funky opening, the amusing dénouement, and a number of the more distressing sequences. Mavropsaridis allows many scenes to unfold at a very relaxed pace—one that might be too slow for some viewers—but the strength of the performances on screen ensures that there’s always something intriguing happening.

With Lanthimos establishing a reliable stable of actors in the forms of Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe (The Northman), Margaret Qualley (Drive-Away Dolls), and Mamoudou Athie (Elemental), it will be interesting to see if they feature in his next project. This outing marks the fourth collaboration between Stone and Lanthimos, with all their previous works being sensational pieces. It seems they make a perfect fit.

While Kinds of Kindness may not reach the same dramatic heights or achieve moments quite as hilarious as some of his other work, I still consider it a total success. I’m genuinely intrigued about where Lanthimos’s career will head next. Coming out of one of his films, you can’t help but wonder what he’ll do in subsequent outings; given that his cinema always surprises, part of the excitement lies in anticipating what form of bizarre absurdities will be on display. As an exercise in unsettling surrealism, Kinds of Kindness excels, solidifying Lanthimos as a director who’s always worth watching.


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Cast & Crew

director: Yorgos Lanthimos.
writers: Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthimus Filippou.
starring: Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau, Joe Alwyn, Mamoudou Athie & Hunter Schafer.