You may have heard of Yorgos Lanthimos from Dogtooth, a film set in a house that no one is allowed to leave, or maybe from his English language debut The Lobster which starred an array of well known talent. His new, disturbing and intriguing film Killing of a Sacred Deer will haunt you long after you’ve left the cinema, the previous hour and forty minutes feeling like a disorientating dream.
Colin Farrell leads as a Steven, formerly hard drinking surgeon whose American dream life is complete with a beautiful wife (Nicole Kidman, stealing the majority of scenes she stars in), two kids and a lavish, almost gaudily decorated house set back from the road. But from the beginning, it is clear that not everything is nearly as idyllic as it seems. And soon, the perfect interiors, the fluid camera movements down spotless corridors and through doorways and the peculiar, stilted way that the characters speak to each other becomes incredible unnerving.
Steven, some years prior, had made a mistake on the operating table, which led to the death of a patient. In order to atone for this mistake, he regularly meets with Martin (Barry Keoghan), the former patient’s son. From the beginning it is clear that their relationship is not a simple one – with all the cunning and secrecy of a man having an affair, Steven does not tell his wife about their meetings, and initially lying about how he knows him. It is never clear whether Steven wishes to act as a replacement father figure to Martin, or something else entirely – but this question is never fully answered. He gives him gifts, expensive watches and Martin in return acts at times like a jealous lover, leaving message after message on Steven’s phone when he doesn’t show up for a meeting.
As a mysterious and complex illness begins to take hold of the family, it is clear that Martin’s motivations with regards to Steven are something that is not entirely earthly or understandable in nature, which leads to a dark, dark, climactic ending.
Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou’s (his regular co-writer) script veers from pitch black humour to awkward interactions to truly horrifying moments of desperation and chaos. Even within the Murphy family, the sense that there is nothing quite right, even before the chaos begins, is found in the script. A simple family meal at the table has a underlying tension that is never fully explained, but this sense of the uncanny is one that builds throughout the film.
The beauty of the film also merits a mention, with scenes moving through the empty and perfect hospital corridors, to the yellow tinged interiors of the houses with a careful, objective eye, which only adds to the sense of paranoia and unease. The soundtrack of the film also adds to this feeling, with scenes suddenly interrupted with a loud, nearly deafening burst of music.
And unlike another film this year that dealt with psychological horror, Killing of a Sacred Deer doesn’t rely on unexplained shock scenes, instead, the horror is built up to in a way that makes you want to stop it, while knowing that you, like the characters, are physically unable to do so.
If you do watch this film, be prepared. But it will be a film that stays with you in a interesting, unforgettable way.