Yorgos Lanthimos set the bar high after the 2015 release of his dystopian romance/drama The Lobster.
Landing on multiple “Best Of” lists (including my own) and considered a worldwide phenomenon for its originality and satirical tones, the Greek-born director takes the audience down a darker path in The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Rejoining forces with Colin Farrell, Sacred Deer is a destructive psychological thriller born out of revenge– showing just how easily one’s life can turn upside down when put in uncontrollable and desperate situations.
The film opens on an extreme close-up of an open heart surgery and a blinding whiteness from the sterile environment as a slow zoom out reveals Dr. Steven Murphy (Farrell) dressed in full-body scrubs. The renowned cardiovascular surgeon is meticulous about his work, both professionally and in his suburban home life. He criticizes his son Bob (Sunny Suljic) about the length of his hair and sets social restrictions for his daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) while admiring the perfection of his ophthalmologist wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman). All in all, life is good for the Murphys.
It’s no surprise then that with his clout and status, Steven is happy to mentor and befriend Martin (Barry Keoghan), a teenager being raised by a single mother (Alicia Silverstone), who has shown interest in becoming a doctor. Martin’s oddness comes across through awkward social skills but his intentions seem pure. Martin begins to infiltrate Dr. Murphy’s life; after showing up at his work announced, showing interest in his daughter, and a string of questionable acts, Steven begins to have reservations about his relationship with Martin. Only by that point, it’s too late.
In true Lanthamos fashion, however, mystery provides a thick veil and situations are downplayed on the surface, which results in a pulsating fear at the film’s climax.
Lanthimos has an artful way of examining complicated relationships in his films, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer pulls no punches when it comes to graphic and unsettling visuals. He subtly pushes the boundaries of reality until you realize the absurdity of the situation we find the characters in. Adding to the eerie surrealism are sweeping one takes and an observational style of filmmaking that his longtime collaborator, cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis, has perfected.
Colin Farrell makes an exciting return to the big screen in Sacred Deer as Dr. Murphy. His level-headedness as the protagonist living the picturesque American Dream does a complete 180 at the end of the film, and that transformation is mesmerizing. Acting opposite Farrell is Barry Keoghan, whose slow-boil performance as the brooding Martin is one of the most unsettling and villainous performances of the year. In true Lanthamos fashion, however, mystery provides a thick veil and situations are downplayed on the surface, which results in a pulsating fear at the film’s climax.
Winner of the Best Screenplay Award at this years’ Cannes Film Festival, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a twisted journey through the mind of modern-day visionary Yorgos Lanthimos. It is fantastical and darkly absurd, an uncomfortably hilarious and thoughtful look at relationships and the sacrifice one makes under impossible circumstances. While it may be difficult to overshadow the success of The Lobster, Sacred Deer will have no trouble solidifying itself as a successful entry in Lanthimos’ expanding canon.
‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ is rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content, some graphic nudity and language. 116 minutes. Opening this Friday at the ArcLight Hollywood and The Landmark.