A successful surgeon and family man’s life takes a downward spiral after he’s drawn into the world of a troubled young patient and is forced to make an inconceivable choice . . . with sinister consequences, in this bizarre tale of revenge and retribution from the singular cinematic force behind ‘Dogtooth’ and ‘The Lobster’.
Having honed his brand of darkly comedic and allegorical deadpan dramas over the last decade or so, delighting critics and selective audiences alike with wholly unique, simultaneously funny and disturbing films like the ones mentioned above—no one can doubt that Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos has one of the most distinctive voices in global cinema today. Now after tackling oppression, fear and relational bondage in his own inimitable way, the Athenian auteur takes on vengeance in psychological thriller style with this deeply unsettling yet confounding quirky and subversive family drama.
Colin Farrell reunites with Lanthimos to star as ‘Steven’, a successful Ohio heart surgeon living a comfortable suburban life with his wife ‘Anna’ (Nicole Kidman), their teenage daughter ‘Kim’ (Raffey Cassidy) and her younger brother ‘Bob’ (Sunny Suljic). But their seemingly idyllic existence soon comes under threat when ‘Martin’ (Barry Keoghan) infiltrates their lives, as this enigmatic and disturbed teenage son of Steven’s former patient drops an ominous and incomprehensible ultimatum on the family—plunging the patriarch into uncomfortable self-reflection, with an unthinkable decision to make.
Anyone who’s seen the last few films of Yorgos Lanthimos will be familiar with his blend of highly unconventional socially reflective drama with bizarre idiosyncratic humour delivered in deadpan fashion, and they would be right to expect the same from his latest—but ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ is a much darker affair than anything we’ve seen from him before, combining a traditional psychological thriller element with his own unique sensibilities to create a delightfully unsettling human drama . . . with a subtle and deliberately unexplained other worldly angle.
Lanthimos’s plunge into psychological thriller territory certainly has a horrific tinge to it, although not enough to make it a true horror movie, and the director makes a concerted effort to create an unsettling atmosphere of menace which grows throughout the film—magnified by the contrast with a deliberately clean visual aesthetic captured the director’s regular cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis. Featuring a cold clinical quality which reflects the spotless veneer of the well-to-do, picture frame-perfect family at the centre of the story.
Nothing though gives this dark and slightly surreal tale more atmosphere than its soundtrack, combining compositions from Bach and Schubert with jarring and ominous original accordion cues which contribute to the sense of foreboding—and Lanthimos also takes a page out of the lofty Kubrick book of filmmaking by using the groundbreaking polyrhythmic music of György Ligeti to great effect.
After getting a taste for his particular cinematic sensibilities in ‘The Lobster’, Colin Farrell successfully reunites with Lanthimos, displaying a mastery of the writer/director’s discomforting and often comically direct matter-of-fact dialogue, with little social filter—while Keoghan also shines and proves comfortable with the unique style, combining it with his odd physical qualities (sorry Barry) to make for a disconcerting character who proves to be both the antagonist and the reckoning for the good doctor. Meanwhile Kidman brings to life the most nuanced character and the sober moral heart of the piece, in another role which contributes to an impressive recent career reinvigoration for an actress who continues to grow, despite an already impressive filmography and decades in the business.
‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ is less overtly allegorical than previous Lanthimos films and perhaps more morally ambiguous too, featuring a stark nihilistic streak which means that the righteousness of the tale is very much in the eye of the beholder. Despite the dark awkward humour delivered in frank fashion at unexpected moments, there’s less charm and fewer idiosyncrasies here too, therefore not as much of an emotional contrast and less quirkiness than we’ve seen within the director’s previous efforts.
Yet this pseudo Greek tragedy bears all the hallmarks of its creator and proves to be a thoroughly engrossing and emotionally confounding ride. A slow-build provocation of delicate sensibilities which keeps you asking how this sombre but slightly surreal madness will all end, while daring you to put yourself in the characters’ positions . . . all-in-all adding to the notion that for a cinephile, a Yorgos Lanthimos proposition is not something to be missed.
The Bottom Line…
A tale of terrible consequences and unconscionable choices told through the prism of a gripping, challenging thriller and highly unconventional family drama; this bleaker Yorgos Lanthimos cinematic proposal manages to maintain his dark comedic sensibilities while unsettling the audience and leaving us with as many questions as answers—solidifying the writer/director’s reputation as one of the most original and distinct new voices in global cinema today.
‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ is out on the 3rd of November in the UK, and out now in selected cinemas in the US.