A revenge tragedy looms in The Killing of a Sacred Deerby James Robins
Help us find and write the stories Kiwis need to read
A hell-bent teen is at the heart of a tense revenge tragedy in quiet suburbia.
Partly, this is down to the way his actors deliver their dialogue. Each line is spoken in a perfunctory, robotic manner, with only the vaguest hint as to the true feelings behind them. That same stilted manner is present in Lanthimos’s latest, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, a sleek machine of doom and disquiet.
The story involves a successful surgeon named Steven (Colin Farrell), who meets regularly with a teenager called Martin (Barry Keoghan) for ice cream and chats. Speculation clouds their relationship. Is Steven grooming Martin? Or is it the other way around?
The answer lies in guilt – botched surgery, a life taken. Martin is invited to Steven’s home, which he shares with his wife (a formidably sane Nicole Kidman) and two children. A revenge tragedy looms, played out against the plush fixtures of quiet suburbia.
Much of the film’s tension springs from learning Martin’s baleful plan early on, then waiting to see what awful choices result.
As a villain, Martin is far more frightening than the cartoon monsters of A Nightmare on Elm Street or It. Keoghan (Dunkirk) was no doubt cast for his face, which, to put it delicately, is distinctive.
And still, there’s that dialogue. Some people may find it completely ridiculous, but everyone else at the screening I attended met it with gales of sniggering. Laughter in the face of such incongruity seems only natural, and Lanthimos has often laced his horrors with black comedy.
Yet I suspect laughter is also a way of dispelling the deep sense of unease that The Killing of a Sacred Deer induces. It’s a way of keeping dread at arm’s length. Under Lanthimos’s surreal spell, resistance can’t last long.
IN CINEMAS NOW
This article was first published in the November 25, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.
Julien Albe and Matthieu Gosset's new venture Ambler has been a long time coming.Read more
The rape and murder of a young comedian in Melbourne this week sparked outrage - fuelled by police telling women to "stay safe".Read more
If Jacinda Ardern was hoping for an easy slide into maternity leave, her main coalition partner wasn't helping her.Read more
As many as 100,000 New Zealanders, many of them undiagnosed, are afflicted by coeliac disease.Read more
The PM can happily go off on maternity leave knowing there is a cast of colourful and capable people to fill the gap — most notably Winston Peters.Read more
This year marks a century since a flu pandemic killed 9000 NZers. Three more such plagues have swept the world since then – and another is inevitable.Read more