By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Currently screening at Prague’s Be2Can, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a wild, unconventional, and wholly unpredictable horror film with tremendous psychological depth, which somehow blends seamlessly with director Yorgos Lanthimos’ signature quickfire wit and dialogue.
Surgeon Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) and his family are struck by a bizarre illness after he befriends damaged teenage boy Martin (Barry Keoghan), the son of a former patient.
This Cannes Official Selection film is first and foremost, much like Lanthimos’ last film The Lobster, a film that stretches one to the brink of very tragic black comedy. It’s bitter, and saying that it’s blunt would be an understatement. With exceptional performances, the cast shines through the director’s expressionless motormouth dialogue that well and truly sets the tone for the whole film. As enjoyable as this kind of humour can be, it is indeed, not for everyone.
Colin Farrell is sufficiently awkward and fantastic in the role of handsome surgeon Steven, and no doubt gives a career best performance here, as he did in The Lobster. His obsessive father-and-son-like relationship with Martin (a truly magnificent performance by Dunkirk‘s Barry Keoghan) is disturbing, alluring, and also quite amusing, as he regularly meets the boy in a local diner, and buys him an inappropriately expensive gift.
Nicole Kidman also delivers as the gentle but stern wife and mother figure Anna, whose relationship with her husband is built around their eccentric children, their medical professions, and their ultra bizarre sex life. We also get a brief but wonderful glimpse of Martin’s flirtatious mother played by Alicia Silverstone, who seems to be making a career comeback through indie films recently.
Perhaps the most brilliant thing about Sacred Deer is the way in which it takes on taboos in such a striking and nonchalant way, especially those involving family life and relationships. As things progress, and characters fall gravely ill, the Murphys are faced with the good old-fashioned question of favouritism among children, and at times, make their choice abundantly clear.
However, instead of playing up the horror and tragedy of such a situation, Lanthimos continues to utilise his eccentric sense of humour to make light of a situation that other filmmakers would probably run away from.
This isn’t to say, however, that this is a laugh out loud kind of film. There’s still a deep and unsettling feeling of dread in the air. The semi-classical score builds perfect tension over the film’s two-hour run time, and through a series of shots from dizzying heights and unusual angles, you really get a taste of the mounting terror that the mysterious illness creates among characters.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a horror like no other. A wonderful fusion of all things dreadful and taboo, with a humorous undertone that’s surprisingly easy to relate to, especially if you have children. Catch it in Prague’s Be2Can Film Festival over this weekend, or in select Czech cinemas from November.
Photo: Film Pulse