A dude with high standards lets us know what he thinks about things. This week it is 'The Killing of the Sacred Deer.'
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a chilling tale of revenge and consequence from director Yorgos Lanthimos. I was truly surprised when I first saw his previous feature, the Lobster. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, although I was dumbstruck after my first viewing. I thought ‘’how can awkward humour, heavy drama and disturbing horror elements be weaved so perfectly together, to create such a unique and enjoyable experience?’’. I had never seen anything like it before. Here Lanthimos reteams with writer Efthymis Filippou and Colin Farrell both of whom he worked with previously on The Lobster. Knowing this team was back together, I was eager to see their latest effort, The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
Jack judged it a must see.
I am happy to say that I was not disappointed. What we have here is a talented director at the top of his game working with a passionate crew to create a truly unique and unrelenting experience. The killing of a sacred deer is gripping, beautiful, distressing and coated with a thick layer of the blackest humour in recent memory. From the first image presented in the film I was on edge and remained so throughout its 2hour runtime. More grounded and sombre than The Lobster TKoaS delivers plenty of chills throughout and is a considerably bleaker and nihilistic project. But for me the more serious and sombre tone don’t take away from the experience and I loved every moment.
The film is visually superb. The attention to symmetry and meticulous framing are reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick and his distinct style. There is a somewhat sinister or vacant feel created by the use of space in wider shots, most noticeably in the abundant headroom above the actors. This creates and unsettling and unnatural atmosphere that is also strangely claustrophobic. The masterful cinematography creates an unrelenting experience and makes it impossible to escape the nightmarish situations that slowly unfold in the story. The occurrence of much of the film within a hospital also played a part in creating a distinct atmosphere of unease. Hospitals are unpleasant and almost alien places, where sickness and distress surrounds you. Hospitals make me uncomfortable as they do to many others.
Praise must also be given to the score and sound design. Bizarre and eerie musical queues can shock and send chills down your spine. Again emphasis is placed on creating a sense of discomfort and dread. The performances in the film may catch you off guard if this is your first Lanthimos feature. His characters have a stilted manner of speaking which makes them seem somewhat detached or uncomfortable in their reality. There is an unsettling rhythm and frankness to the dialogue.
Everyone is painfully awkward, none more so than Colin Farrell. Farrell stars as Steven a successful cardiologist with beautiful hands and a prosperous family. Farrell is excellent in the role which is different from his performance in the Lobster. Steven is perhaps a less likeable protagonist, but no less compelling. The dilemmas Steven is faced with evoke empathy as well as disgust, creating a complex character who feels real in this bizarre reality. Farrell and Lanthimos clearly enjoy working together and I hope they continue to do so.
The breakout star of the picture is Barry Keoghan, who portrays Martin. Martin is a troubled and unsettling teen who has a mysterious relationship with Steven. From his first appearance, I knew this performance was going to be something special. Keoghan is outstanding in the role and. Martin is a nuanced character whom I cannot discuss in depth without getting into spoiler territory. He easily dominated his scenes and this performance was a joy to behold. Keoghan proves he is a talented young actor with huge potential and I hope he receives the recognition he deserves come award season.
The cast of the film is kept minimal giving us room to breathe and know the characters and everyone delivers in their respective roles. Bob well developed character and his family are likeable have a convincing dynamic which makes Martin’s arrival and the unfortunate series of events that disrupt their idyllic lives all the more upsetting. Character reactions and motivation are believable and I genuinely felt sympathetic towards the starring characters throughout the film.
I can appreciate why this film may not please everyone. There is an unusual tone which had me somewhere between chuckling and twisting in discomfort. Some may be bored or uninterested as there aren’t any wild set pieces or intense bursts of action.
If you enjoyed the Lobster or other films where dark humour is combined with psychological horror then The Killing of a Sacred Deer is not to be missed and I consider this to be one of the best films of 2017. Do yourself a favour and don’t watch any promotional material for the film, go in blind and enjoy the theatre experience. Buckle up and prepare for an unpredictable and unsettling experience. You may never look at spaghetti the same way again.
Author: Jack Wilton