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The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) starring Colin Farrell

Video review

An unusual connection

Colin Farrell plays Steven Murphy, a surgeon who has befriended a rather strange adolescent named Martin (Barry Keoghan). The connection between the two? Steven feels sorry for him out of guilt at having botched an operation on his father, thus causing him to lose his life. One day he decides to invite Martin to his house to meet his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and son Bob (Sunny Suljic). He manages to charm the latter two - Kim in particular.

As a way of saying thanks, Martin invites Steven around to have dinner with himself and his mother (played by Alicia Silverstone). After the meal, Martin persuades him to stay with them to watch his favourite movie - Groundhog Day. However, halfway through he goes to bed, after which his mother attempts to seduce Steven. The latter - being a faithful married man - isn’t happy with her rather blatant moves and decides to leave.

Sunny Suljic in The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Things get increasingly creepy as Martin starts giving Kim rides home on the back of his bike, popping up at the hospital where Steven works and so on. Moreover, Bob mysteriously loses his ability to move his legs. Steven and Anna rush him to the hospital to investigate what is afflicting their son. Unfortunately, Steven’s colleagues draw a blank, concluding that his illness must be psychosomatic. Martin suddenly pops up in the beleaguered father’s office with a rather chilling revelation - one which sparks a major dilemma…

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Typically atypical Lanthimos

The synopsis of The Killing of a Sacred Deer makes it sound a bit like one of those “family in peril from a spurned lover/nanny/stepfather from hell” films such as Fatal Attraction, The Stepfather and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle which were popular during the late 1980s/early 1990s. However, when Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos is at the helm you know that something rather different in feel and outcome will be in store.

As with the director’s previous films the feel is rather akin to a tighter Stanley Kubrick. Visual compositions veer between immaculate and painterly still scenes and lengthy corridor tracking shots. There’s a cool and studied emotional distance which makes the resultant violence truly jolting and the black humour uncomfortably hilarious. There’s a discordant violin motif on the soundtrack which heightens the trauma in a disquietingly effective manner.

On the other hand, there are moments of random quirkiness that come straight from a playful and truly dreamlike imagination: there was arguably no narrative need to have Raffey Cassidy singing her way through Ellie Goulding’s Burn. However, it feels entirely part-and-parcel of the film’s surreal and vaguely supernatural feel.

The broken family

While it’s a suffocatingly tense and uneasy piece of work, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is not a conventionally mechanical horror-thriller by any stretch. As with Dogtooth and The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer focuses on relationships (sexual and familial)… as in “the inherent dysfunction of”. Barry Keoghan’s Martin may be a pure, ice-cold psychopath, but at least he’s the most stable and dependable human being here. The real villains are the supposed victims: the family themselves in all of their harsh and self-servingly irrational ugliness.

Steven is extremely mean to Bob at times - and while he treats Kim in a somewhat less unpleasant manner, he still seems rather more interested in the food his wife Anna makes than he is at extending any real warmth or emotion towards either of his children. The relationship between Steven and Anna, meanwhile, is one of rituals rather than true passion: the one where the latter dutifully lies back on the bed out of assumed obligation. As the story goes on, undercurrents of distrust only serve to widen the gap between them. If you’ve seen Dogtooth you will doubtless be expecting things to get messier the further we go into the story - and would be quite right to do so (not that I should go into details i.e. spoilers).

Tight drama

The film is very tightly focussed and contained on the four family members, with Martin remaining little more than an external device (albeit one played with an effectively controlled malice by Barry Keoghan, who is - at 25 - considerably older than his boyish looks suggest) for setting up the spine-chilling scenario. Alicia Silverstone only has one scene as Martin’s mother, albeit a memorably creepy and hilarious one. However, it’s Colin Farrell who turns in the finest piece of work here as a family man whose initial, seemingly noble, attempts to keep everything together sink into a morass of overbearing aggression and outright mania.

Colin Farrell in The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Is The Killing of a Sacred Deer Yorgos Lanthimos’ masterpiece? Well… it’s certainly a tough decision choosing between it and Dogtooth. Deer has a touch less of Dog’s jaw-droppingly batshit creativity but it’s more immaculately-crafted all-round. I guess only time will tell… once we all work out the significance of that damn Ellie Goulding song.

Runtime: 121 mins

Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

Script: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou

Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Camp

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

Where is it showing in Edinburgh and Glasgow?

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Showtimes in Cameo Edinburgh

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