Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Camp
Compelling, rich and deep.
That’s just Colin Farrell’s beard.
Reuniting after The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos and Farrell deliver another strange blast of arty bizarreness with The Killing of a Sacred Deer – a movie that features no deer. Blending in themes of revenge, Ancient Greek mythology, fate and morality (for a few examples), the movie takes you on a strange trip and leaves you feeling strangely numb afterwards.
It’s a deliciously weird movie. But also a pretty solid one too.
Classical music and full-screen open heart surgery is our introduction to the movie. It’s an apt intro.
Steven Murphy (Farrell) is a heart surgeon with a penchant for the strange. He openly discusses his daughter Kim’s (Cassidy) first period at social functions, indulges in somnophilia with his wife Anna (Kidman) and has a mysterious teenage boy, Martin (Keoghan), shadowing him at work and around town. It’s clear that things aren’t completely normal – and that’s before the monotone dialogue is brought up. As Martin assimilates himself further into Steven’s life – including attending family dinners, romantic liaisons with Kim and impromptu half-naked heart examinations – it becomes extremely clear that the unstable teen is more than just a devoted follower of Martin and his work – there’s a stronger, deadlier bond between them that places Steven in a horrific position regarding his family – Steven was the surgeon presiding over Martin’s father’s unsuccessful heart surgery and now the teen has cursed the Murphy family, and one by one they’ll die unless Steven makes a gut-wrenching choice.
The synopsis sounds fairly straightforward, however, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is anything but. Lanthimos is anything but a straightforward director. The (intentionally) pedestrian performances and dialogue delivery are unnervingly conveyed, leaving the viewer with little to grasp in terms of character motivations and emotion. Instead, it’s down to facial expressions and ‘eye acting’ to sell the story. Slow-burning cinematography and camera work adds to the eerie mood and that score? Unsettling shrieks of music assault scenes abruptly, but this is no horror movie jump scare convention. Similar to how Howard Zimmer’s Dunkirk score conjured up a chaotic and rising dread, so too does The Killing of a Sacred Deer’s (which includes cues from avant-garde maestro György Ligeti of Heat and 2001: A Space Odyssey fame, to name a few)
The writing is sharp and calculated, every strange conversation regarding watch straps or ejaculate measurements only adds to the story, the mystery and character exposition. With elements of a modern-day retelling of King Agamemnon and Iphigenia (in which the King was forced to sacrifice his daughter having slaughtered a…sacred deer) (also, I’m glad I bought those Greek Mythology Info books years ago…) there’s an ethereal mood that hangs over every meticulously framed shot – DoP and longtime Lanthimos collaborator Thimios Bakatakis has crafted a clinical yet claustrophobic atmosphere via his use of camera techniques and low-fi filtering. If you haven’t already gathered, the movie is swathed in strangeness.
It’s not just Farrell and Lanthimos reuniting either. Following The Beguiled, Nicole Kidman teams up with Farrell once more this year. This time they’re husband and wife in a peculiar, dull yet loving marriage. Colin Farrell once more proves he’s a fine actor with another excellent turn as the self-confident yet flawed surgeon and Kidman is confidently strong as she comes to terms with the increasingly dire situation she finds herself in. There are subtle nuances to both performances that utterly portray everything the dialogue won’t. Menacingly distant from his turn in Dunkirk, Keoghan is brilliant as the unpredictably eccentric Martin, who manages to be naïve and disturbing at the same time. These are top class performances.
With the ambiguity of the characters and their motives, The Killing of a Sacred Deer flits between being a thriller, a mystery and a horror. It begins as very much a mystery, before veering into thriller mode as true intentions begin to seep out and ends in a horror scenario – visually and narratively. It’s a real mixed bag of tones and genres. This may not be to everyone’s taste and the movie as a whole will not sit well with everybody. The deliberate pacing, the ambiguous, lethargic dialogue and the overall ‘art house’ direction can be a struggle at times and will be the key reasoning for the majority of viewers dislikes.
Clever and purposeful, The Killing of a Sacred Deer eschews many of the standard Hollywood trappings and delivers something highly original. Colin Farrell is the key aspect to the success here with a very strong performance in a movie that will keep you thinking for a while after viewing.
December 12th 2017