Film / Theatre Reviews

The Killing of a Sacred Deer


If an up close and personal view of a real open heart surgical procedure is rather off-putting, then you aren’t going to get off to a great start with the latest movie from Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster). But as with all his previous work, like the dementedly clever Dogtooth, The Killing of a Sacred Deer will be an acquired taste for those that like to delve into the surreal and absurd. And while it doesn’t quite have the originality and socially-aware bite of his previous films, this is still a worthy addition to his repertoire that benefits greatly from a fantastic cast.

Colin Farrell plays the lead as a highly esteemed cardiovascular surgeon in the US, who lives an idyllic, if sterile, life with his ophthalmologist wife, Nicole Kidman, and a young son and daughter. When a teenage boy, played by rising star Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk), enters Farrell’s life with motives that are initially unclear and a history that is soon to unravel, he brings with him an escalating sense of dread. As the consequences of past events start to impact his day-to-day routine, Farrell’s character finds himself in an unthinkable situation that does not bode well for his seemingly perfect family life.

There is simply no one out there making films like Lanthimos. Along with his longtime co-writer Efthimis Filippou, the duo have previously created some of the most wired-up, deviously clever dialogue that you are likely to hear, and the Sacred Deer is no exception. The trademark monotone, staccato-like delivery from his characters – in particular with Farrell, who’s on fantastic form – is there in all its absurdity, along with a mesmerisingly deadpan performance from Keoghan that only becomes eerier as the film progresses.

Kidman is perfect for her role as a kind of trophy wife and mother, with a hard edge lurking under her porcelain exterior. She acts as the stricter parent of the two kids, played by Raffey Cassidy (Tomorrowland) and Sunny Suljic. Cassidy’s character is vital as a kind of love interest and is one of many oddball subjects of conversation between her parents and their friends, especially as her newly developed menstrual cycle seems to be a hot topic. Take from that what you will, but Cassidy is exceptional in her role.

It doesn’t take long to sense something amiss, the first sign a sex scene between Farrell and Kidman that involves a position called ‘general aesthetic’. As the strange, unsettlingly sinister classical score whines, screeches and cavorts around each scene, and the camera work masterfully moves in a fly-on-the-wall manner from an assortment of complicated angles and manoeuvres, the movie will probably either repulse or intrigue. These feelings will only be exacerbated as the blacker-than-night, subtle humour and absurdity starts to move into overdrive, resulting in, amongst many other oddities, one of the most ludicrous, almost funny depictions of Russian roulette that you will see. I have to admit that I was mostly laughing but it will undoubtedly horrify many people.

Apathy is something that is always bubbling under the surface of Lanthimos’ films. With Sacred Deer, there is a constant sense of blame shifting and deception from all of the characters, especially with the physicians discussing previous mistakes during surgeries. Bill Camp (Lincoln) is great as a ‘friend’ and anaesthetist for Farrell but they continuously backstab and lie to each other, throughout, with strangely amusing results. This is key to the premise of the film and seems to be a big part of the Lanthimos’ point, though I suspect there is a lot more going on underneath all the ridiculousness.

When the pressure starts to mount on Farrell’s family, both he and Kidman present a ruthless streak, resulting in some sporadic but always shocking scenes of violent behaviour that, again, delve into the absurd while still managing to unsettle the viewer. Keough’s detached, constantly questioning manner and relentless pursuit of Farrell and his family displays a talent that can only mean a bright future for this young Irish actor. On a side note, I had to do a doubletake at Alicia Silverstone (Clueless) in a small but brilliantly bonkers role as his mum.

The Killing Of Sacred Deer cements Lanthimos as one of the most exciting and original filmmakers about, even if it isn’t up to the standards of his previous efforts. What makes this work is an excellent cast that pulls off incredibly difficult material with aplomb and some ingenious camerawork that compliments the surreal and disturbing events that unfold. There are controversial themes and issues covered in this story, but I honestly believe that Lanthimos likes fucking with the audience as much as anything else. And for that alone, I completely respect and admire what he does. Kev Lovski

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is showing at Queen’s Film Theatre, Belfast and the Irish Film Institute, Dublin until Thursday 16th Nov.