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Review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer – “An extremely disturbing, yet wonderfully entertaining ride”

After The Lobster’s dystopian trip soaked in masterful social satire, writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos re-teams with leading man Colin Farrell to tell a story that, albeit grounded in the present tense, is yet another grotesque descent into the surreal – this time around courtesy of the myth of Iphigenia. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is only inspired by the ancient Greek tale, channelling its main themes but that’s more of a blueprint for the auteur to craft a film that feels a lot like the love child of Hitchcock and Aneke with a spruce of Kubrick when it comes to style.

Lanthimos confirms his own uniquely twisted view of humanity, filled with dark humour, in this chilling psychodrama that seeps into your blood at the pace of an IV drop and leaves you gasping for air by the time the screen finally cuts to black. If Greek mythology isn’t your forte, keep your Google frenzy at bay to avoid possible spoilers. The title alone, after all, already announces grandiose themes of ultimate and solemn sacrifice, in spite of its allegorical connotations.

The filmmaker surely doesn’t waste time to set the unnerving tone that will haunt the audience until the very last frame, as he greets us with a big fat close up of an open-heart surgery unfolding on screen over elegant classical music. Whether you’re squeamish or not about graphic imagery of human anatomy in a vulnerable state, there’s no doubt you’re going to be affected by such a peculiar opening sequence. Of course, the choice is both narratively and thematically poignant.

Colin Farrell in fact plays Steven, an esteemed and austere cardiothoracic surgeon who seemingly has it all: the career, the house in the sumptuous suburbs and the beautiful wife and kids. Yet, given the kind of story hinted by the title, it’s inevitable to expect both him and his family to harbour unsettling feelings and dark secrets behind the façade of a clinically perfect suburban life.

The wrecking ball to Steven’s world is promptly revealed in the shape of Martin (Dunkirk’s Barry Keoghan), a troubled teenager the surgeon has taken under his wing after the boy’s father died on the operating table. From the very first moment Martin appears on screen, it’s evident that something is off with him – yet we give him the benefit of the doubt, given the circumstances.

What may look like an innocent attempt at earning a new father figure, in lieu of the one he lost, soon turns into a morbid obsession. Martin consistently intrudes in Steven’s life, winning everyone over with charming good manners only to put his manipulative plans into action as he secretly starts dating Kim (Tomorrowland’s Raffey Cassidy), Steven’s 14 year-old daughter, and then tricks Steven into a not-so-subtle date night with his widow mother – Alicia Silverstone, memorable in just this one scene.

When Steven’s 12 year-old son Bob (Sunny Suljic), suddenly gets sick with no evident medical reason, Martin’s dark motives are finally out in the open and are bound to pose a serious threat to the surgeon’s family. Things however are way more complex than black and white here as we observe Steven trying to cover up his hubris with apparent stoicism whilst tackling this spiralling crisis. The situation opens the Pandora’s box of a rotten family unit, from Steven’s contorted relationship with his wife (Nicole Kidman) to their children’s oddities.

The most disturbing film of the year, sumptuously photographed and sublimely acted by the entire cast, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is mostly a showcase for Barry Keoghan’s outstanding performance. If his potential had only been teased so far, this is finally the consecration for the Irish actor as one of the most amazing young talents working today. Here he shows a masterful control of his craft, perfectly capturing the character’s idiosyncrasies and generating an unsettling mix of feelings in the audience – from irritation to empathy, all the way down to a powerful, creepy sense of sheer terror.

Just like everyone else in this film Martin speaks in a monotone, quasi-robotic voice, which is obviously a stylistic choice by Lanthimos, which combined with the rest of the film’s glacial aesthetics – the elegant cinematography and mise en scène – suggest the numbness of the world before our eyes. Some will find it off-putting and pretentious along with the story’s baffling outcome but if you’re looking for a traditional psychological thriller where things make sense then probably the Greek filmmaker’s work is not going to be your cup of tea.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is pure cinematic pleasure if you’re open to letting a true auteur take you on board for an extremely disturbing, yet wonderfully entertaining ride through humanity’s greatest fear: the realization we’re not in control of our lives. It sounds like heavy stuff and it certainly is – yet one of cinema’s greatest qualities is indeed the chance to exorcise our fears through catharsis. Rarely you’ll find a genre film that allows you to explore the bleakest sides of life in such entertaining fashion. It may not be new territory but the way it’s handled is worth the two hours of escapism.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is in UK cinemas from November 3rd.

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