There are very few directors working today as completely bonkers as Yorgos Lanthimos. His films have always had a great mix of absurdist dark comedy and mind numbing horror once you realise what is fully going on. His previous films, mainly Dogtooth and The Lobster, did lean more towards the absurdist dark comedy element, but with The Killing of a Sacred Deer, he goes all in with the mind numbing horror, creating one of the most unique, intense films I’ve seen this year. Now two things before I begin. First, thanks to Rebecca Sharp of Almost Ginger for accompanying me when I went to see it yesterday, it was great spending time with her again. Secondly, the best way to experience The Killing of a Sacred Deer is to go in as blind as possible. Before I went to see it I didn’t watch any of the trailers nor did I read any reviews of the film and during the course of this review I may give away details that weren’t in the trailers so what I’ll say now is that the film is brilliant, albeit not for everyone, and that if you have an interest, go and see the film then come back to read this review.
The film focuses on Steven, a successful heart surgeon, living a comfortable life with his wife, eye surgeon Anna, and children Kim and Bob, who has formed a relationship with Martin, the teenage son of one of his former patients which, over the course of the film, moves from an awkward, but friendly, relationship to something much darker which encompasses Steven’s family. Now that’s all the plot I feel comfortable with sharing, again the best experience for the film is to go in knowing as little as possible, mainly due to the tone of the film. In Lanthimos’ other films, there is more of a synthesis between the dark comedy and the horror but here there is more of a split, which works with the story of the film. When the film begins, the scenes between Steven and Martin are framed almost like scenes of an extramarital affair are framed in other films, with the dialogue in this portion of the film being quite awkward and blunt, as is to be expected from a Yorgos Lanthimos film and this more darkly comedic tone in the first half of the film helps make the shift in tone into something more horrific more effective, both due to there being a sense of creepiness in the first half of the film, along with the overall atmosphere of the film supporting the shift in tone. There are also good explorations of themes including the responsibility of doctors to patients, egotism, balance and retribution, although to explain why would spoil the film.
The performances meanwhile fit the tone of the film perfectly. Colin Farrell is great as Steven, showing off the awkward vibe at the start of the film well, along with both the love he has for his family and his friendship with Martin. As the film goes on and gets more depraved, Farrell’s performance grows more unhinged, filling Steven with anger and grief, making the character more compelling. Nicole Kidman meanwhile continues her hot streak of work as Anna, having a more caring side throughout the film than Steven alongside showing how far she is willing to go to support her family, with this aspect bringing in some elements of tragedy in the later stages of the film. Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic as Kim and Bob meanwhile again add to the awkward feeling in the first half of the film through how blunt their dialogue is, but it’s really in the second half of the film where their performances shine, playing into the dark comedy of the film, and in this half when I saw dark comedy I mean DARK comedy, I won’t say more for fear of spoiling the film. Speaking of dark comedy, there’s good work done by Alicia Silverstone, getting easily the funniest line in the film, her scene being the most awkward in the film, again working for the tone of the film. The real standout performance here though is Barry Keoghan as Martin. Between this and his role as George in Dunkirk, Keoghan is really establishing himself as a talent to watch. As Martin, Keoghan gives off a solid creepy vibe throughout the film, being charming enough to let you know how he was able to ingratiate himself with Martin and his family yet always having this unsettling vibe, letting you know that there’s something off about Martin. As the film goes on and we find out more about Martin, his performance grows creepier and more unhinged, creating an air of unpredictability that makes Martin a fascinating character to watch, waiting and fearing what he’ll do next, the best way I can describe the performance is as a more awkward version of Ezra Miller in We Need To Talk About Kevin. From the script, Martin would have been a very difficult character to play, if even one hint of the performance didn’t work, the entire film would have fallen apart around him, but Keoghan plays Martin perfectly, creating of the most fascinating characters in film this year.
On a technical level, the film is very impressive. The oppressive atmosphere throughout the film comes through with the brilliant music, the orchestrated score giving the whole film this creepy vibe, whilst the performances from Raffey Cassidy help with conveying the overall tone of the film. The cinematography as well creates this foreboding atmosphere right from the start, opening on a shot of actual open heart surgery, with the culmination of this shot setting up the theme of responsibility in the film. The rest of the cinematography, working with the stark whites of the sets, has this Kubrickian feel, reminding me a bit of the cinematography in A Clockwork Orange, the cleanliness of the whole environment making the horror stand out even more.
I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to go into more detail with this review but you do need to go into The Killing of a Sacred Deer knowing as little as possible. The less you know beforehand, the more you’ll get out of it first time around as the atmosphere of the film envelops you and you’re led along the twisted road of the film. Once again Yorgos Lanthimos has created a great balance of dark comedy and psychological horror, being one of the few directors able to make awkwardness work in film, making him one of the most unique cinematic voices around. This is not a film for everyone, I can guarantee that a lot of people will hate this film and will be thrown off by the oppressive atmosphere present right from the first shot but I found this to be a fascinating film, one which I won’t forget anytime soon.
My Rating: 5/5