The Killing of a Sacred Deer

 

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Brilliant filmmaking applied to a story that ultimately mystifies one.


The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Nicole Kidman takes the night air

 

As with The Lobster this film finds the Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos working in English but nevertheless still being co-author with Efthymis Filippou and retaining the services of his fine photographer Thimios Bakatakis. Furthermore, Colin Farrell again has the lead role here playing a surgeon, Steven Murphy, who as we eventually discover is blamed by a teenager named Martin (Barry Keoghan) for the death of his father who had died on the operating table. Murphy appears to have a very secure existence living in a luxurious house with his wife (Nicole Kidman) and their two children, the teenage Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and the younger Bob (Sunny Suljic). The family are unaware that Martin has contacted Steven Murphy again, this being some three years after his father’s death, but now they meet him and will soon discover that this seemingly quiet, well-spoken youth will endanger them in extraordinary ways.

 

When reviewing The Lobster, I acclaimed the filmmaking but regretted that no clear theme emerged from its strange story. The Killing of a Sacred Deer offers the same dichotomy in an even more extreme form. Its meaning is so uncertain that many audiences will emerge bewildered by it, but the cinematic quality here shows Yorgos Lanthimos at his finest. Before the drama takes on its main shape, the writing with its touch of the Pinteresque creates a hugely enjoyable offbeat tone while the film flows beautifully in carrying forward the storyline. The cast capture perfectly the apt mode of delivery for their lines - and this is especially true of relative newcomer Barry Keoghan as the enigmatic Martin. Meanwhile, the direction, not without echoes of Kubrick’s The Shining at times, is backed up by a stunning choice of music on the soundtrack ranging from Bach and Schubert to Ligeti (that the latter is represented confirms the impression that this film contains the best use of existing classical music in cinema since 2001: A Space Odyssey).

 

The first half of The Killing of a Sacred Deer feels like a masterpiece even as we wonder where it is going to lead us. However, the revenge theme when it fully emerges takes over so that on one level the menace becomes akin to a standard melodrama of a family in jeopardy and that lacks the weight that the first half leads one to expect (a possible supernatural element hardly helps since it confuses more than it enhances). More important, surely, is the deeper level existing somewhere between allegory and a psychological study of the consequences arising from buried guilt, while the film also suggests that beneath the surface of a respectable family lies unexpected ruthlessness when survival is at stake. Ultimately there’s an echo of pagan sacrifice too. But by the end the film has become an uneasy mix which may even cause unintended laughter. Consequently one can only wind up being seriously disappointed given the sheer brilliance on display for so much of the time.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Camp.

 

Dir Yorgos Lanthimos, Pro Ed Guiney and Yorgos Lanthimos, Screenplay Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou, Ph Thimios Bakatakis, Pro Des Jade Healy, Ed Yorgos Mavropsaridis, Costumes Nancy Steiner.

 

Element Pictures/Film4/New Sparta Films/HanWay Films/The Irish Film Board/Sacred Deer Productions-Curzon Artificial Eye.
121 mins. Ireland/UK/France/USA. 2017. Rel: 3 November 2017. Cert. 15.