Emma Stone’s gory new movie sparks walkouts and divides critics at Cannes

Kinds of Kindness is the actor's third collaboration with Yorgos Lanthimos

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 17: Emma Stone attends the
Emma Stone attends the Kinds Of Kindness red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival on May 17, 2024. (FilmMagic)

Fresh of their success at the Oscars, one would think that Emma Stone's next collaboration with Yorgos Lanthimos would be a cause of celebration, but it seemed to prompt the exact opposite reaction during its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

Kinds of Kindness screened on Wednesday, 22 May and the film's gory, sexually-explicit, three-hour take on control and consent proved too much for some audience members, with some said to have walked out. The reaction appeared to frustrate Lanthimos who, according to Variety, abruptly left the cinema without speaking to the audience after the movie received a lukewarm 4-minute standing ovation.

Split into three chapters, the movie sees its repertory cast play different characters — one story is about a man (Jesse Plemons) who is pushed around by his boss (Willem Dafoe) about everything from what he eats to who he marries, the second is about a man (Plemons) who becomes convinced his wife (Emma Stone) is not who she says she is, and the third is about a woman (Stone) who abandons her marriage to join a sex cult leader (Dafoe).

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 17: Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (C), US actor Willem Dafoe (L-3), British actor Joe Alwyn (L), US actress Hunter Schafer (R), US actress Emma Stone (L-4), US actress Hong Chau (L-2), Mamoudou Athie (R-2) and Margaret Qualley (R-3) attend the screening of the film 'Kinds Of Kindness' at the 77th Film Festival at Palais des Festivals in Cannes, France on May 17, 2024. (Photo by Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu via Getty Images)
The film was reportedly given a lukewarm reception, with some audience members walking out and director Yorgos Lanthimos said to have left abruptly after the 4-minute standing ovation. (Getty Images)

The anthology movie features explicit sex scenes and depictions of cannibalism, all of which did not seem to land as well as might have been expected. In terms of the critics, response was divided with some praising the film as "delightfully nasty" while others argued it was "not easy to like".

Variety's Peter Debruge wrote that while Lanthimos is "a pioneering member of the Greek Weird Wave" this "triple helping of strange" feels like a "hard reset" to his most recent works Poor Things and The Favourite.

"It’s a quizzical concoction bound to baffle and delight in equal measure, structured so it feels like binge-watching three episodes of a nihilist Twilight Zone knock-off," the critic wrote.

"It’s never boring, and yet, Lanthimos’ outré sensibility demands a special brand of patience (not to mention wariness) from viewers, many of whom will come to see Plemons and Stone stretching beyond their respective comfort zones, only to have the same limits tested in themselves."

Kinds of Kindness (Searchlight)
Split into three chapters, Kinds of Kindness sees its repertory cast play different characters in different disturbing storylines. (Searchlight)

Deadline's Stephanie Bunbury argued that while it is Lanthimos and co-writer Efthimis Filippou's "gloomiest film yet" it is also "very funny".

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Bunbury wrote: "Strange things happen, but this isn’t a ghost story. Lanthimos is not interested in the uncanny so much as the ominous, an atmosphere underlined in all three stories with a jabbing piano score by Jerskin Fendrix and emphasized by cinematographer Robbie Ryan’s alternating lenses, wacky angles, extreme close-ups and a repeating motif of gleaming surfaces."

"So here it is, the new Lanthimos: puzzling, brilliant and, in all honesty, not easy to like. What is this teasingly unfathomable filmmaker telling us? We may never know," the critic added.

Watch the trailer for Kinds of Kindness:

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw praised the film's cast, namely Plemons and Stone as he said the latter is "fierce and capable but sometimes vulnerable and sexual".

Reflecting on the film, Bradshaw said: "The effect of it all is elegant and overwhelmingly stylish, yet maybe there’s not a superabundance of substance to go with the style. Kinds of Kindness feels heavier and longer than I expected, as if reaching for a meaningful resolution that might not be there. Yet absence and loss is perhaps the whole point."

Evening Standard's Jo-Ann Titmarsh felt similarly about the cast, writing: "Plemons and Stone carry the film with aplomb, and what a joy it is to see the former in a starring role. The pair are well supported by the rest of the cast, Defoe in particular."

The critic added: "Although it lacks the totally out-there oddness of the director’s earlier works and the richness of his latter films, it is an intelligent and darkly funny film that brings together a bevy of cast and crew members all at the top of their game and they all seem to have relished working on this cinematic experiment."

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 17: (L-R) Hong Chau, Willem Dafoe, Emma Stone and Yorgos Lanthimos attend the
The movie features explicit sex scenes and depictions of cannibalism, and it did not seem to land as well as might have been expected of an Emma Stone and Yorgos Lanthimos collaboration. (FilmMagic)

While Entertainment Weekly's Maureen Lee Lenker said Kinds of Kindness' "abrupt violence, grotesque body horror, and mordant sense of humor... feel more aligned with Lanthimos’ earlier style. The audacity that has so defined Lanthimos and Stone’s work together remains, but here, it takes on a nastiness that becomes tedious the longer the film stretches on (and on and on to a nearly three-hour running time)."

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Lenker argued that while Plemons is the standout of the film, it felt like "a step backward" for Stone and her "go-for-broke comedic talents".

Total Film's Anna Smith was more direct with her criticism, writing: "The film itself feels like a test for audiences – a dare to see if they will run with it. Many of the press in Cannes have, but mainstream audiences might find this harder to endure."

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 17: (2L to R) Joe Alwyn, Jesse Plemons, Yorgos Lanthimos, Hong Chau, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Emma Stone, Mamoudou Athie, Hunter Schafer, Andrew Lowe, Kasia Malipan and Ed Guiney depart the
While critics praised the cast, especially Jesse Plemons and Emma Stone, there were many who found it a difficult watch. (Getty Images)

The critic added that because of the bleak tone and "off-kilter" dialogue "it’s hard to enjoy the film in between its comical moments", adding: "You might care to see this as an allegory about power, sex and control, but it doesn’t feel like it’s saying anything particularly profound."

At the press conference for the film, Stone was reportedly flustered when most questions were directed at her and were largely about the sex scenes in the movie. To one question, she said: "That’s my part of it [as an actor]. In [‘Kinds of Kindness’], a lot of that expression happens through the body even when it’s violent or when it’s sexual or whatever might happen. Instead of explaining it, our job as actors is to bring more and it’s all about physicality."

Per The Wrap, Plemons was largely ignored at the conference and was only given the chance to answer a question —and defuse the reportedly awkward atmosphere in the room— at the end of the event.

Kinds of Kindness will be released in UK cinemas on Friday, 28 June.