THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Stars: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Camp, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Racahel McAdams.

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More weirdness from idiosyncratic Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos, who recently gave us the absurdist, dystopian social critique The Lobster. His films do well on the festival circuit, but have also increasingly found support from filmgoers interested in more challenging fare.

With their second English language film, Lanthimos and his regular screenwriter Efthymis Filippou give us their take on the ancient Greek myth from Euripides, in which Agamemnon kills a deer that is sacred to the goddess Artemis, and his daughter Iphigenia is cruelly sacrificed as punishment and retribution. Themes of guilt, retribution and sacrifice run through this disturbing and misanthropic tale that shares a few themes in common with Lanthimos’ earlier intriguing but perplexing Dogtooth, a domestic drama about a dysfunctional family dynamic. This disturbing film also explores darker taboo themes of infanticide.

Lanthimos is here reunited with Colin Farrell, the star of his The Lobster. Farrell plays Dr Steven Murphy, a respected but slightly arrogant cardiovascular surgeon with a wonderful, ostensibly perfect and close-knit family – his dentist wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), and 14-year old daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and 12-year old son Bob (Sunny Suljic). A recovering alcoholic, Steven strikes up a friendship with troubled teen Martin (Barry Keoghan, whom we recently saw in Dunkirk), whose father died during surgery. Eventually though Martin begins to insert himself into the family. Steven grows concerned about Martin and his motivations and tries to distance himself from the young man.

Then Steven’s two children are struck down by a mysterious paralysis, and he is forced to make a difficult choice, one that nor parent should ever have to make. Each member of Steven’s family will die a slow and painful death unless he kills one of them to atone for the death of Martin’s father. It’s unnerving, almost as if Sophie’s Choice was directed by Michael Haneke. Lanthimos doesn’t pull his punches, and he develops an increasing sense of dread as the film progresses towards its disturbing denouement. He offers up no easy explanations for the events that follow, and the challenging and demanding nature of this drama will; not be to everybody’s taste.

The film also reunites Farrell and Kidman, both of whom appeared together in Sophia Copolla’s remake of The Beguiled. Farrell seems attuned to Lanthimos’ material and he delivers a solid yet enigmatic performance here. He brings a detached quality to his performance. Kidman has made some interesting choices throughout her career, preferring challenging roles and interesting characters to more mainstream blockbusters. She is strong as the increasingly worried Anna, who tries to protect her family from the weird events that threaten them. Keoghan is effectively creepy as the lonely teenager, and finds a delicate balance between the naive and the malevolent.

Regular cinematographer Thimios Batakis’s camera remains static as he films, often framing characters through doorways or working in unflinching close-up. He also imbues the film with lots of visual motifs that underscore many of the film’s themes. Much of the enigmatic dialogue is delivered in typically deadpan and monotonous fashion. The atonal string driven music score adds to the element of discomfort.

Great production design from Jade Healy recreates the Murphy’s spacious, pristine and sumptuously appointed house, which somehow seems cold and sterile.

This is an unusual, existential horror film, morality tale, and part pitch black comedy. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer unfolds in the typical minimalist style that Lanthimos has perfected over his past few movies, and his measured approach is something of an acquired taste. And the glacial pacing will not appeal to everyone.
★★★

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