The less you know about what actually happens in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the richer your experience of the first act will be. You are given time to acclimatise to this world. How it looks, how characters interact in it and how ideas and emotions will be expressed to you. I found myself absolutely absorbed, but wondering what form the narrative would eventually take. Once the actual core concept became apparent I was absolutely in love with the film.
Yorgos Lanthimos, the director of Dogtooth and The Lobster, has crafted another high-concept, incredibly surreal suspense thriller. The film felt Kubrickian. The camera movements are majestic and detached. The blocking is incredibly formal and often isolates the characters. The music is weird and disorientating. The effect is that the film has an otherworldly quality. It has a sense of tremendous importance to go with its strange action. The film is surreal, but not in the same way as Mother! The story is relatively linear, and for every action clear character motivations are in evidence. Everything is so fantastic but the characters are so restrained, and its this contrast that makes the film so captivating and unique.
The film is also incredibly funny. As with The Lobster, the stilted character interactions are hilarious. Their dry delivery as they discuss very mundane topics lends the characters a childlike transparency. This is preferred technique of Wes Anderson, but Lanthimos employs the technique in a very different way. The darkness of the stories he tells are always at odds with the simplicity of his characters. Characters can discuss horrific things in a detached, matter of fact manner and it’s as often funny as it is devastating.
It’s difficult to assign genre to the film. Despite the humour it often plays like a horror movie. The central dilemma of the film is terrifying and plays out with a Kafka-esque absurdity and a Von Trier-style cynicism. There’s certainly a thriller aspect with a difficult decision and a ticking clock at the core of the plot. Perhaps calling the movie a psychological thriller would be the most fitting description. It certainly had me unnerved yet rapt throughout.
Performances are fantastic across the cast. Everybody adapted to the unique style superbly well. Colin Farrell offers a similar performance as his character in The Lobster, but is no less compelling for it. Nicole Kidman displays the fabulous unspoken hostility that she used so well in Eyes Wide Shut and Stoker. The children of the family, Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic, are wonderful in the way that young people tend to be in Yorgos Lanthimos’s films. Think Wednesday Adams without the enthusiasm. The standout performance of the film is Barry Keoghan as Martin, the driving force of the piece. Keoghan achieves amicability, charm and menace as needed. He’s a remarkable young talent.
The Killing of a Sacred Dear is a singular film. The brilliantly dark premise is perfectly complimented by Lanthimos’ fantastic style. It gripped me from its first unsettling shot to its last haunting scene.
5 / 5
Paul Salt is the co-host of One Good Thing.