By Emily Komiyama (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
From the opening shot of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, we immediately get a sense of what we’re in for. A slow reveal of an open heart, pumping during its own surgery. It’s immediately confronting but it’s a frame that is hard to look away from – with Franz Schubert’s symphony Stabat Mater adding a sense of urgency and dread to the already alarming opener.
We then meet Stephen (Colin Farrell), a surgeon who has established a relationship with Martin (Barry Keoghan), a teen awkward in nature and stature, and who happens to be the son of one of his former patients. Martin eventually weaves his way through Stephen’s family, developing relationships with his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their two children Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic).
And that is about as far as I will go in regards to plot. Because The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a piece of cinema where the little you know, the better.
It is difficult to delve deep into how and why this film works so well, while still keeping mum about major plot points. Director Yorgos Lanthimos has created a horrifying, tension-ridden psychological horror that weaves Greek mythology, biblical references, moral ambiguity and themes of masculinity and regret into more than just your standard revenge film. And it’s a piece that will lurk under your skin hours after the credits roll.
Uneasiness comes from all angles here – Lanthimos’ and Efhymis Filippou’s bizarre screenplay and equally bizarre use of dialogue, Thimios Bakatakis’ off kilter and anxiety-ridden cinematography (shades of The Shining and Mr. Robot seep through effortlessly), and of course the performances are magnificently unnerving across the board. Farrell and Kidman provide their best work in years, portraying a married couple that aren’t as picture perfect as they make out to be. Alicia Silverstone makes a surprising cameo as Martin’s mother, and provides one of the film’s best lines in terms of comedy, while also still making us feel incredibly uncomfortable in the process.
Every performance is stellar, no matter how big or small the role, but the film really belongs to Barry Keoghan. The Irish actor, who was recently seen in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, has a presence so chilling that even him eating spaghetti will give you nightmares. Everything from the way he moves, to the way he smiles from a distance is drenched in horror. And the deadpan stares would challenge Ezra Miller in We Need to Talk about Kevin any day. Keoghan has delivered one of the most frightening performances I’ve seen in years, and here’s hoping the award season recognises this in the months ahead.
Lanthimos had already established himself an oddball auteur mastermind, with Dogtooth (2009) and The Lobster (2015) near cementing him into cult status territory. And The Killing of a Sacred Deer has now nailed him to it – this is easily one of the best and most disturbing films of the year (even more so than Darren Aronofsky’s mother!). If you consider yourself a bit squirm-ish when it comes to tension and discomfort, this might not be the film for you. But if you think you’re brave enough, I highly recommend it. Just don’t expect to feel rosy afterwards.
Anna Murphy: Good afternoon. You must be Martin.
Martin: That’s right. You must be Anna.
Anna Murphy: That’s right.
Martin: I brought you some little gifts.
Steven Murphy: That’s very kind of you.
Martin: It’s a keyring with a musical note on it for Kim because I know she likes music.