Director Yorgos Lanthimos and regular co-writer Efthymis Filippou have become synonymous with absurdist cinema. From Greek features Dogtooth and Alps to English-language debut The Lobster, slicing satire combined with jet-black humour has become their unmistakable trademark. Now steering into horror territory, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is an unnerving, twisted examination of guilt and revenge.
Wealthy heart surgeon Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) seemingly leads the ideal life with his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and son Bob (Sunny Suljic). Despite his beautiful family, successful career and grand house, there’s an undercurrent of emptiness to Steven and it runs in the family. From the vacant look in Steven’s eyes as he fills the air with mundane drivel to Anna’s lifeless compliance in her husband’s strange sexual desires. There’s no childlike wonder to be found within siblings Kim and Bob either, mirroring their parents as they blankly express themselves.
More suspicions arise with the introduction of Martin (Barry Keoghan), an uneasy teenager who frequently meets up with Steven. Their relationship is unclear and at first, their arrangement resembles that of a guilt-ridden, divorced father allocating time for a forgotten child, compensating with expensive gifts. As the film unravels, Martin steadily invades Steven’s life, regularly showing up unannounced at his workplace and eventually meeting his family, subsequently making an impression on daughter Kim. Martin slowly morphs from unsettled to unstable, a gradual transformation that reveals his true, sinister connection to Steven.
Underneath his juvenile, fidgety facade, Keoghan is quietly threatening as Martin. A departure from his wholesome portrayal in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk earlier this year. Already accustomed to the weird and wonderful world of Lanthimos’ work, Farrell shines again. Just as detached but far more skilled, his role here mirrors his turn in The Lobster. Future collaborations may benefit from a slight change of pace, to explore what else he’s capable of within crazy confines. Kidman effortlessly feels at home here as Anna, torment is etched on her face as she desperately attempts to piece back together her dismantled family.
Once again Lanthimos showcases his signature deadpan humour and stilted dialogue. Steven’s encounter with Martin’s mother (Alicia Silverstone) is amongst many moments that provide awkward laughter. However, similar to Dogtooth, The Killing of a Sacred Deer never loses its bite. It’s an intensifying, uncomfortable viewing experience that’s tauter than his previous film The Lobster, which despite its intriguing premise, ran out of steam and fizzled out.
Cinematography by frequent collaborator Thimios Bakatakis emphasises imposingly tall hospital rooms from impossibly high angles, as if judgement were descending. Low angles accentuate seemingly endless corridors, a miserable fate lurking around each corner. Clinically capturing the sterile surroundings as reflections of the Murphy family bounce off gleaming, white surfaces.
While Lanthimos’ unique brand of bizarre may prove too much for some, fans of his uncompromising, off-kilter work will revel in his most refined work to date.