Killing of a Sacred Deer, The (2017)

Review #1,525

Director:  Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast:  Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Alicia Silverstone, Barry Keoghan
Plot:  Steven, a charismatic surgeon, is forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice after his life starts to fall apart, when the behavior of a teenage boy he has taken under his wing turns sinister.

Genre:  Drama / Mystery
Awards:  Won Best Screenplay (Cannes)
Runtime:  121 mins
Rating:  M18 for disturbing violent and sexual content, some graphic nudity and language
International Sales:  HanWay Films
Singapore Distributor:  Anticipate Pictures

"Have you got hair under your arms yet?"
"I've just got my first period."

Yorgos Lanthimos’s follow-up to his peculiar if uneven The Lobster (2015) is a few notches more accomplished.  The winner of Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival, with big-name stars such as Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman headlining it, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is absurdist cinema taken to the extreme.  Fans of the director are in for a rude awakening as he takes no prisoners in this captivating work, which operates more in Dogtooth (2009) territory than The Lobster.  

The best way to describe Sacred Deer is that it is a family drama that you won’t want to watch with your family.  Brutal, cruel and endlessly depressing, Lanthimos’s work is a masterclass in the portrayal of the idyllic disquiet, the kind of filmmaking that haunts you while you are under its relentless spell, and gets under your skin way beyond the end credits.  

Farrell and Kidman play Steven and Anna, husband and wife respectively, in stylised deadpan performances.  They have two kids, a restless younger boy and a girl who’s undergoing puberty.  All of them speak weirdly but the parents are respected people in their field.  Steven is a top surgeon, while Anna runs a clinic.  One day, Steven’s relationship with a teenage boy, Martin, whom he had met and taken under his wings, takes a turn for the sinister.  

Martin is played by Barry Keoghan, who gives the film’s most unsettling performance, one that is reminiscent of Ezra Miller’s terrific work as the eponymous character in Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011).  Keoghan, as you may recall his familiar face, also starred in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (2017) as one of the brave town boys who followed by sea into the war zone.  

Much have been said of Sacred Deer and its Kubrickian impressions, not least by the great Pedro Almodovar.  What the film most resembles in tone is Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), particularly its use of tracking shots in corridors and walkways.  But perhaps more tantalisingly, Sacred Deer’s deliberately jarring sound design and use of classical music create an eerie atmosphere through the technique of counterpoint, and this is apparent from the very first shot, one that queasily announces what the film is gonna be like.  

Sacred Deer could be Lanthimos’s most polished and well-defined film to date, a harrowing work that is clinical in execution in more ways than one.  A must-watch for the adventurous film enthusiast!

Verdict:  Absurdist cinema taken to the extreme, Greek provocateur Yorgos Lanthimos delivers a harrowing work that is clinical in execution in more ways than one. 





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