VOD film review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer
James R | On 11, Mar 2018
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy
How do you follow a film like The Lobster? By becoming even more twisted. Yorgos Lanthimos’ reunion with Colin Farrell is a fantastically dark beast, at once a scathing moral satire of wealthy society and a painfully fraught survival horror.
Farrell plays heart surgeon Steven, who has a picture-perfect life with wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their kids, Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic). But after feeling bad for the young son of a former patient, who died on his operating table, Steven’s unlikely friendship with the stranger turns into something unexpectedly sinister.
Fusing classic Greek tragedy with Lanthimos’ ear for modern dialogue that it always slightly too stilted to be natural, this is a masterclass in sustaining awkward tension. The cool hospital corridors contrast magnificently with the shocking, gruesome opening scene (think Casualty turned up to 11) and in the middle of it all, the director is practically grinning at the camera with a darkly funny sense of humour, without ever letting up the ominous atmosphere of fate and retribution.
The whole thing is rooted in its cast. Farrell delivers another career-best performance as Steven, a man whose privileged existence hasn’t resuted in happiness – he delivers his lines with a detached, spiky awkwardness that is entirely unnatural and endlessly fascinating. His mannerisms only become even more manned when he’s given an impossible choice by Martin, one that requires the sacrifice of a family member to avoid an even worse fate for the whole clan.
Barry Keoghan’s performance as the eerily calm boy making the threat is one of the most unsettling things you’ll see outside of the White House, as he worms his way into Steven’s everyday routine, from lunch at his work to family dinners. He’s oddly charming in his blunt arrogance, something that cruelly ensnares the attentions of Cassidy’s impressionably daughter. As things go wrong for both her and Bob, almost as if they’re competing for their father’s horrified attention, the drama erupts into something both naturalistic and surreal, recalling Kubrick’s The Shining or Hitchcock at his best.
The pay-off is at once horrendous and entertaining, keeping you riveted to the screen even as you want to look away. The only shame is that the build-up in the first half takes quite so long – although if it helps to keep the intense horror of the comedy’s dark climax at bay, perhaps that’s a blessing in disguise.