The Murphy family lives a pristine, picture-perfect life in suburban Cincinnati. Dad Steven (Colin Farrell) is an accomplished surgeon and mom Anna (Nicole Kidman) runs a health clinic. Their children, Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic), are well behaved and popular. However, when Steven befriends a teenage boy, Martin (Barry Keoghan), whose father died suddenly on the doctor’s operating table, things slowly turn more strange and sinister. As Martin becomes closer with the Murphy family, Steven starts to question the boy’s ulterior motives.
Audiences unacquainted with Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos should think twice before sitting down to see The Killing of a Sacred Deer. The filmmaker’s off-kilter humour, deliberately stilted dialogue, and sense of narrative illogic are not for everyone. Fortunately, his latest bleak comedy is a work of masterful unease, punctuated by extreme wide-angle shots and slow, agonizing zooms. Shifting between a cavernous empty hospital where Steven works and his spacious home, two spaces of an almost unnatural neatness, the director foreshadows the blood, pain and chaos that threaten to ruin these realms of order.
Atop the stylistic precision, the performers are game. Reuniting with his Lobster director, Farrell nails the formal tone in Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou’s screenplay. Still, his character’s increasing desperation is palpable. Keoghan’s restrained turn as Martin makes his antagonist even more chilling. Kidman, who nails her bourgeois privilege and boredom to a tee, is somewhat underused. If The Killing of a Sacred Deer doesn’t quite live up to the brilliance of The Lobster, it is due to stiffer pacing and a less riveting emotional arc for the characters. Still, Lanthimos’ style and unsettling, unpredictable narrative overcome some of these lapses.
Is The Killing of a Sacred Deer essential viewing?
The film is certainly not for all tastes. But if you enjoyed Lanthimos’ odd, nasty, symbolically rich dark comedies of recent years, purchase your tickets immediately.