Review by Tom Cooney
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The opening scene of Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest effort, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, provides the audience with a perfect example of unsettling tonal foreshadowing. Those first shots depict a heart-surgery in incredibly close detail, Lanthimos testing how squeamish his audience really is. It is a shocking opener, which successfully establishes the film’s disturbing tone. Suffice to say that The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a grisly watch, which raises moral questions around fate, power and – above all else – justice.
Hot on the heels of 2015’s The Lobster, Lanthimos’ characters maintain the disconnected dialogue imbued throughout that earlier effort. The cast – led again by Colin Farrell – all embody the writer/director’s unusual style, enhancing The Killing of a Sacred Deer’s sense of unease. However, more than just creating uncomfortable tension, this deadpan style also frequently results in darkly hilarious moments. As in The Lobster, this underlying black comedy provides respite from the film’s progressively disturbing action – with many scenes leaving you unsure whether to laugh or cry. In most cases, it’s probably both.
Farrell delivers a great performance in his role as surgeon Steven Murphy, with Barry Keoghan’s Martin plunging the character deeper and deeper into personal torment. Many viewers will recognise the young actor from his role in Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster Dunkirk, but he’s given much more material to work with here – near-outshining his esteemed co-stars. Kidman too continues one of the greatest runs of her career, following her Oscar-nominated role in 2016’s Lion and Emmy-winning turn in HBO’s stellar Big Little Lies. Even relative newcomers Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic bring their A-game, demonstrating Lanthimos’ skill in extracting the very best from his cast.
The cinematography of The Killing of a Sacred Deer is as equally impressive, with this being the director’s most Kubrickian film to date. Particularly with the use of tracking shots tailing our characters up the long and clinical hospital corridors, comparisons with The Shining are inevitably going to be made. Compounding this is the relentless use of music throughout. Working in both creeping undertones and bursting crescendos; the orchestral score coalesces with the monotone dialogue and shocking imagery to cement Lanthimos’ film as a bona-fide horror.
There’s a reason that I haven’t discussed much in the way of plot throughout this review – The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a film that should be experienced with as little prior knowledge as possible. Even having awareness of the Ancient Greek myth referred to in its title is almost too much information, although fascinating to draw parallels from once the credits have rolled. That’s the thing about Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest effort: it leaves a lasting impression. For all its absurdism, he has crafted one of the most horrific, yet thought-provoking films of 2017 so far.