Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic
Running time: 121 minutes
The life of a forthright heart surgeon (Farrell) is handed a sinister blow when a series of meetings with a mysterious teenager (Keoghan) leaves him with a devastating choice to make.
Before you get your antlers in a twist, please note that no deer were harmed in the making of this film. In fact, there isn’t a single deer to be found anywhere in The Killing of a Sacred Deer – save for the odd metaphorical one. But while there may be no Bambis left hurting after Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest psychological trip, it’s fair to say that most viewers will be. Bizarre, haunting, and deeply unsettling, this is a work firmly in the mother! bracket of ‘what the f*** did I just watch’ cinema, and will almost certainly prove just as divisive for audiences.
Farrell plays Steven – a nonchalant, well-groomed, self-assured heart surgeon who’s gently prescriptive demeanour towards his quintessential Nuclear family – wife Anna (Kidman) and two children Kim and Bob (Cassidy and Suljic) – indicates a conformed, content existence consisting of traditional values (there’s bread to be won, chores to be done, and even homemade lemonade to be, well, made). Everything in this world is clean, well presented, and polite; and it’s an uncomfortable pristineness that immediately feels a little too perfect.
The poignancy of the film’s opening: a lingering shot of an actual beating heart during actual surgery slowly reveals itself, however. Something very much raw and alive is pounding away beneath the surface here, and while wounds can be stitched up, the scars remain.
And the cracks soon start to appear with the arrival of the mysterious Martin – a sixteen-year-old who is as creepy as he is likeable, and who’s enigmatic relationship with Steven becomes increasingly ominous when Martin’s true motives are gradually revealed.
‘Gradually’ is the operative word here, as The Killing of a Sacred Deer takes its time to burrow itself firmly under your skin and stay there long after the credits roll. This is a lesson in brooding horror; absent of the more conventional fright tactics and gross-out, jump-scare bells and whistles. Instead, time is the true terror, as the consequences of Steven’s actions become harrowingly clear only much later. Meanwhile, with the script – penned by Lanthimos and fellow screenwriter Efthymis Filippou – jumping so unexpectedly between the mundane and the disconcerting, and with the score so nightmarishly striking and the visuals so alarming (including recurring nods to a rather peculiar sex game), you’ll be kept suitably disturbed until then, and always a million miles from comfort.
But this is discomfort in the most hypnotically intriguing way imaginable. A lethal narrative concoction of revenge and karmic retribution, laced with drops of lies, deceit and wavering masculinity make for a truly unique viewing and aural psycho-horror experience you’ll be toying with for days afterwards.
With fine performances all round, The Killing of a Sacred Deer isn’t just art-house; it’s shocking, bold and richly ambiguous art-house. There’s allegory written all over this one – “It’s a metaphor” one character even notes. Hell, there’s even relevance to Martin’s favourite film choice…