UK Release Date: 3rd November 2017
Runtime: 121 minutes
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writer: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou
Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Camp
Synopsis: A heart surgeon finds himself subjected to an unusual and horrifying brand of deadly revenge when a blunder from his past comes back to haunt him and his family.
The aggressively oddball world of Yorgos Lanthimos‘s movies is one that rewards viewers who are willing to simply go with it. He trades in clinical, cold movies and deliberately stilted, deadpan dialogue. In The Lobster, that off-kilter feel greatly enhanced a film that took an unusual glance at the world of dating. Lanthimos has returned to his trademark unusual environment with The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which is an even more accomplished and complete work. It’s a skin-crawling tale of revenge and sins of the past, in which Lanthimos’s unique style has a killer effect.
The film opens with a gruesome close-up of heart surgery, before introducing us to cardiologist Steven (Colin Farrell) as he rather dispassionately discusses various types of watches with a colleague. He then goes to visit youngster Martin (Barry Keoghan), with whom he has a relationship from the past. Steven eventually makes the decision to introduce Martin to his wife (Nicole Kidman) and children (Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic). Soon after, the family members are struck down with a mysterious, paralysing illness and it becomes clear there’s some sort of sinister, perhaps supernatural plot at play.
To delve too deeply into the plot of The Killing of a Sacred Deer would be to spoil its elegantly crafted surprises, but it takes its title and broad narrative idea from the Greek myth of Iphigenia. Lanthimos, from the very start, knocks the audience off balance with his unusual Dutch angles and a camera that always seems to be positioned either a few feet too high or a few feet too low. This unusual filming style and the dialogue, from Lanthimos and regular collaborator Efthymis Filippou, is consistently alienating and bizarre, which creates an unsettling, tense feel.
Colin Farrell, who dipped his toe into the Lanthimos universe with The Lobster, is excellent as the film’s distant protagonist. He’s fascinated with watches and only comes alive sexually when his wife drapes herself across their bed as if under the influence of general anesthetic. His relationship with Barry Keoghan’s mysterious teen is deeply unusual and Lanthimos never explains their connection enough to lift the sense of unease surrounding it. Farrell is at home amidst the weirdness and plays everything so straight that even scenes that could easily become ridiculous never slip into unintentional comedy.
Keoghan, who gave Dunkirk one of its few major emotional beats, is absolutely fascinating as Martin, who always talks as if he wants to get everything out before someone tells him to stop. He’s unsettling without ever being outwardly malevolent, with a strong dose of Ezra Miller in We Need to Talk About Kevin. One scene, in which the true extent of Farrell’s predicament is revealed, plot exposition seems to tumble enigmatically from Keoghan’s mouth as if he is simply rattling off a shopping list. It’s he that is the film’s true star.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer starts out as an oddball drama, but has become a truly terrifying horror movie before it reaches its bleak denouement. Lanthimos is unafraid to delve into darkness and never pulls punches, even as characters literally start begging and bargaining for their lives. The final scene leaves things a little too vague after the extraordinary power of what came before, but The Killing of a Sacred Deer casts an eerie spell and it will certainly leave you unable to shake its aura even days later.
Pop or Poop?
The weird world of Yorgos Lanthimos isn’t for everyone, but those willing to embrace The Killing of a Sacred Deer will be rewarded with a movie that lodges itself deep within your brain and twists its narrative knife.
Colin Farrell and Barry Keoghan excel within the unsettling, clinical environment the director creates and, aside from a slightly disappointing ending, this is a film with a twisted heart that manipulates all who submit to it.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.