The Killing of a Sacred Deer - movie review

by David Larsen / 16 November, 2017

The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos


Something is wrong. You will be a good way into the second English-language feature from Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos before you know what, or why, or what will come of it, but the sense of something palpably amiss is pervasive and enveloping.

Calling this a horror film would be accurate in a technical sense, but also misleading. It lives out on the far cinephile fringe of horror, where creeping unease replaces the jump-scare. I’m divided between wanting everyone I know to see it — it’s a grand and memorable piece of art — and wanting to post warning notices at the door.

The first thing we see is a close-up of glistening raw flesh. It’s discomforting; for the squeamish it will be worse than that, but even for those desensitised by slasher films and hyper-realist medical dramas, the lack of context gives your mind too many places to go. The explicitness of the image is not typical of the film, which is far more interested in mental discomfort than body horror, but that brief moment of visual disorientation — are you seeing open heart surgery? An act of torture? The ritual killing of the title? — counts as fair warning.

We cut to two doctors walking down a hospital corridor. One of them is Colin Farrell, and their conversation has a distinctive tang which will be familiar to anyone who’s seen Farrell’s previous collaboration with Lanthimos, The Lobster. The earnest over-sharing of that film’s dialogue is back, but here it has a very different effect, and Farrell is playing a very different character: not a sweet no-hoper placed in a ghastly predicament by a satirically dystopian society, but a wealthy professional with a picture-postcard life in a society that seems identical to ours.

We get hints quite quickly that there’s something off about his relationship with his wife (Nicole Kidman) and something forced about his mentorship of a needy teenage boy (Barry Keoghan), but the stylised dialogue means that every conversation in this film feels a little wrong.

Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell play husband and wife, but something is off about their relationship.

It could just be Lanthimos playing language games; it could be that these are ordinary people speaking a heightened cinematic dialect. Or it could be that the artificial vernacular is a form of double bluff. Maybe every relationship in the film really is subtly poisoned.

The soundtrack and the cinematography combine to reinforce the effect of the language, with jarring music cues and camera angles that defamiliarise and discomfort without quite rising to the level of overt manipulation.

The performances are equally well judged and equally ambiguous. It should not be surprising to anyone at this late date that Nicole Kidman can convey a complex inner life with one twitch of an eyebrow, though I’m still getting used to the idea that Farrell can match her. But the real surprise in the cast is Keoghan, last seen as a young fishing-boat worker in Dunkirk, and here a remarkably strong presence. Exactly where his character sits in the story takes a while to become clear, and the revelation is not a happy one. This is not, in fact, a happy film. But it reinforces my sense that Lanthimos is one of the most original voices in today’s cinema.

Opens November 16

This is published in the November- December 2017 issue of Metro.

MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


Donald Dux: An extraordinary year of President Trump
84715 2017-12-15 00:00:00Z World

Donald Dux: An extraordinary year of President Tru…

by Paul Thomas

Paul Thomas has chronicled the Trump presidency since its beginning and reviews the extraordinary year since The Donald entered the White House.

Read more
Former punk Kody Nielson is heading in a new direction
84445 2017-12-15 00:00:00Z Music

Former punk Kody Nielson is heading in a new direc…

by James Belfield

But it’s no less entertaining.

Read more
The 10 Best Tech Gadgets of 2017
85128 2017-12-15 00:00:00Z Technology

The 10 Best Tech Gadgets of 2017

by Peter Griffin

A round-up of the best and grooviest gadgets from 2017 and previews of top tech tempters for the new year.

Read more
Cervical-cancer screening tests are about to change
84383 2017-12-15 00:00:00Z Health

Cervical-cancer screening tests are about to chang…

by Nicky Pellegrino

Cervical-cancer screening tests have been helping to save lives for more than 25 years. Now the focus of the tests is going to change.

Read more
The 50 Best Champagnes of 2017
85059 2017-12-15 00:00:00Z Wine

The 50 Best Champagnes of 2017

by Michael Cooper

Whatever you call it – fizz, champagne, bubbly, sparkling – wine with bubbles in it is widely adored, especially at this time of the year.

Read more
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – movie review
85062 2017-12-14 11:12:10Z Movies

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – movie review

by James Robins

Star Wars has been cannibalising itself, but The Last Jedi might just be the best one yet.

Read more
Gareth Morgan stands down as TOP leader
85045 2017-12-14 08:27:22Z Politics

Gareth Morgan stands down as TOP leader

by RNZ

The Opportunities Party founder Gareth Morgan says he will stand down as leader of the party.

Read more
Euthanasia bill passes first reading: How the MPs voted
85042 2017-12-14 08:07:28Z Politics

Euthanasia bill passes first reading: How the MPs …

by RNZ

Act leader David Seymour says he was surprised so many MPs supported his bill to legalise euthanasia. It'll now go to select committee.

Read more