Kinds of Kindness review – a salacious, sun-bleached fable

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Yorgos Lanthimos


Emma Stone Hong Chau Jesse Plemons Joe Alwyn Mamoudou Athie Margaret Qualley Willem Dafoe


Lanthimos is on a roll following his award season darlings, The Favourite and Poor Things.


Old school Yorgos can sometimes be tough going, but the blackly comic set-pieces come thick and fast.

In Retrospect.

A rare example of an anthology film in which all the constituent parts work like gangbusters.

Yorgos Lanthimos returns with his merry band to explore – in triptych form – all the funny and sick ways in which we entrap ourselves inside psychological prisons of our own making.

Some guy once said some words that resonated with some other guys, and those words were this: “God is dead”. I allude to that quotation because the Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos definitely has other ideas. It’s hard to see his work as being spiritual, or interested in matters of down-to-earth religious dogma. He merely believes that God is very much alive, because how else would He be able to torment humankind with every available resource in His considerable arsenal?

The ironically titled Kinds of Kindness is a salacious, sun-bleached triptych in which various people have their lives violently upended by some variety of God-like presence. Each story comprises its own, fable-like enigma that’s not a million miles away from those seen in classic TV anthology serial, The Twilight Zone. What are the limits of the boss/employee relationship dynamic? Is it possible to adapt to the behaviour changes of a loved-one? And how far can someone push themselves to display an act of extreme fealty to another?

In the first short, titled The Death of R.M.F., Jesse Plemons’ character gets to play sub to God’s dom (played by Willem Dafoe, obvs) in a tall tale of deathly power games and premium sports memorabilia. A divine hand, a cruel and manipulative one, hovers over the second short, R.M.F Is Flying, in which Emma Stone’s lost-at-sea marine biologist returns home to discover that her doting husband (Plemons) believes her to be an imposter and insists that she prove her worth.

Finally, in R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich, Stone and Plemons play a pair of sexy brainwashed disciples, executing the surreal bidding of a Svengali power-couple (Dafoe and Hong Chau) who are searching for the key to bodily resurrection. The “R.M.F.” that features in the three titles denotes the initials of a man (his full name is never revealed) who is the only character that features in all three films, suggesting that, even though all the other actors play different roles, the events all occur on some kind of linear timeline.

Kinds of Kindness sees Lanthimos reconnecting with screenwriter Efthimis Filippou, with whom he made The Lobster, Alps, Dogtooth and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. This new film sees the pair working in a new, more-sophisticated and coruscating register than ever before, as their abiding concerns are this time pushed further and harder. The pressures that come from submitting to a force of sublime dominance inevitably lead to transgression, and in this instance, the moments of splenetic violence, when they come, are funnier, grimmer, more shocking and even more euphoric than they’ve ever been before.

In the past, when Lanthimos and Filippou have gotten together, their work has tended to take place in what can only be described in a liminal space of emotional nothingness. There’s a Brechtian quality to Lanthimos’ mischievous rejection of realism. The syntax and cadence of spoken dialogue is shorn of all emotive capacity resulting in a comic monotone in which the letters and the sounds and the movement of the human mouth are emphasised to the point of forming their own micro performance. In Kinds of Kindness, this mode is visible once more, albeit in a manner that’s more complimentary to the film’s intricate plot machinations and complex characters.

Another returning partnership is with cinematographer Robbie Ryan, who came on board for The Favourite with a measure of reticence, but has not looked back since. While he was given free reign to delve into his treasure-box of weird vintage lenses for 2023’s stunning Poor Things, here we have something visually closer to the Robby Müller-like vistas and “Americana” in quote marks of Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas. While the locations and sets are noticeably sparse (because why do you need trinkets when you have a God?), Lanthimos uses the the frame to highlight humorous domestic objects that draw the eye like still life subjects (an umbrella stand, a glass, a ketchup bottle).

And he’s gathered around him a primo acting ensemble – everyone involved got the memo and does what is expected of them (which, in most cases, is a lot). Stone delivered an all-timer performance in Poor Things, and she continues down the path of becoming an actor of rare fearlessness and charisma with this one. Plemons recalibrates the deadpan drawl that has supercharged such mid-tier comic works as Game Night and makes a smooth entry into Lanthimos’ demimonde. Willem Dafoe is Willem Dafoe, one of the most reliable actors in the game, while Margaret Qualley, Joe Alwyn, Hong Chau and Mamoudou Athie round things out perfectly.

Indeed, beyond its direct subject matter, the film is also something of an ode to experimental theatre, as it feels as if we’re watching a well-oiled troupe who are able to slink into different roles and guises at the drop of a hat. As the Lanthimos project extends ever further, it becomes clear that he’s interested in how the concept of performance intersects with our everyday lives.

In cases where a director pushes an actor to nudge their personal comfort zones, and possibly challenge the perception of their public image, some may read that as the classic “director-as-god” conceit. Yet this mode just compliments the subject matter so well, and there’s a sense that the ideas that the film communicates would not come across with such droll clarity were they played in the traditional realistic mode.

Kinds of Kindness leaves you with the open question of its ultimate purpose, and it’s not necessarily an easy task to connect the three shorts together in a very simple way. Yet the entries into this wicked compendium are more interesting due to their differences rather than their similarities, suggesting that all types of people have their lives ruined by some variety of existential conundrum. And that is something that creates a sprawling lattice of deep human connectivity.

Little White Lies is committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them.

By becoming a member you can support our independent journalism and receive exclusive essays, prints, weekly film recommendations and more.

Published 24 Jun 2024

Tags: Emma Stone Hong Chau Jesse Plemons Joe Alwyn Kinds of Kindness Willem Dafoe Yorgos Lanthimos


Lanthimos is on a roll following his award season darlings, The Favourite and Poor Things.


Old school Yorgos can sometimes be tough going, but the blackly comic set-pieces come thick and fast.

In Retrospect.

A rare example of an anthology film in which all the constituent parts work like gangbusters.

Suggested For You

LWLies 103: The Kinds of Kindness issue – Out now!

By Little White Lies

Yorgos Lanthimos is up to his old tricks with this delightfully mean allegorical anthology.

Poor Things review – Lanthimos at his most playful and comedic

By Savina Petkova

Emma Stone gives a career-defining performance in Yorgos Lanthimos’ opulent provocation about the human body as a nexus for pleasure and pain.

review LWLies Recommends

The Favourite

By David Jenkins

Olivia Colman is sublime as Queen Anne in Yorgos Lanthimos’ absurdist period tragicomedy.

review LWLies Recommends

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.