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Review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer

After bursting onto the (relatively) mainstream scene with 2015’s dark comedy The Lobster, writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos returns with the equally as subversive The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Lanthimos has re-teamed with The Lobster star Colin Farrell and co-writer Efythymis Filippous, but can this seemingly formidable trio replicate the impressive alchemy that made their first collaboration both a critical and commercial success?

Surgeon Steven Murphy (Farrell) is a man with the perfect life; a successful career, a doting wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and two idyllic children. He has also developed a bond with a young, fatherless teen called Martin (Barry Keoghan), but this relationship threatens to shatter his domestically tranquil existence as Martin begins to infiltrate Steven’s life and presents him with a sickening dilemma.

Many writer-directors have a distinct and unmistakable voice. However, Lanthimos has created his own language, which he established in his earlier pictures Alps and Dogtooth, and features a peculiar, deadpan delivery and an off-beat pattern of speech. This unique tone is more glaringly evident in the dialogue that the characters voice emotionlessly. Like The Lobster, there are laughs to be found but they’re followed by a dose of self-doubt as to whether or not you should find such misfortune or uncomfortableness the source of amusement. Steven nonchalantly tells his colleague, “Our daughter started menstruating last week” and this candid admission doesn’t raise a single eyebrow from anyone in the scene, but the audience is rightly shocked and bemused. However, the viewer does quickly adjust to Lanthimos’ world where characters and their environment are simultaneously at harmony and in contention with each other and for 120 minutes, we’re fully engrossed in his absurdist vision.

Every aspect of the film contributes to the uneasy and disturbing mood, from the camera work, with its off-kilter framing and shot compositions, to the swelling score that induces a sense of dread every time it creeps into a scene. Steven’s oddities are apparent from the very beginning with his initially ambiguous relationship with teenager Martin; he gifts him expensive watches and meets with him in secret, ensuring not to disclose to his colleagues the context of their connection. As Martin becomes closer and closer to Steven, their relationship changes in new and shocking ways.

Lanthimos’ reluctance to give the audience a definitive answer to situations that present a plethora of questions calls to his generosity as a film-maker as he allows viewers to deduce their own readings rather than imposing his own singular intention. The director’s magnanimity doesn’t stop there as he has bestowed upon Colin Farrell two of the finest roles in his career thus far. Farrell is sensational as the cardiologist with a crisis, deftly capturing Steven’s desperation as he seeks a solution while being too cowardly to face the severe extent of his problems. Kidman is reliably strong and relative newcomer Barry Keoghan delivers a menacingly effective performance that is sure to haunt you long after you’ve left the cinema.

A tragic tale of revenge told in a Shakesperian style, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a film not for the fainthearted, but it is further proof that Yorgos Lanthimos is one of the most exciting voices working in cinema today.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is in cinemas nationwide now. Image source: Youtube.com