“Our children are dying, but yes, I can make you mashed potatoes.”—it is a line that typifies the strange world of Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos. His films are clinically measured without an ounce of extra fat and feel like they sit somewhere on the autistic spectrum of film-making, if there was such a thing. His previous outing, The Lobster, with its blunt and robotic dialogue, was as peculiar as it was amusing and The Killing of a Sacred Deer is tonally much the same, if perhaps a little more disturbing.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a seemingly emotionless film, detached and devoid of any warmth. You’d think it has little to offer, but its world of odd characters and absurd situations offer a rewarding mix of dark comedy and painful catharsis. Steven (Colin Farrell), a renowned cardiovascular surgeon, and his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), an ophthalmologist, are happily married with two children. When a patient dies on Steven’s operating table he feels duty-bound to take the dead patient’s son, Martin (Barry Keoghan), under his wing. However, when Steven’s own children begin suffering a clinically unexplainable condition things begin to unravel. Steven’s relationship with Martin takes a peculiar and sinister turn when Martin offers Steven a horrific solution to their problem.
Farrell and Kidman offer typically measured performances, but the real surprise is Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk), whose portrayal as Martin feels like watching a toddler with his hand on the proverbial nuclear button. It is a tour de force of uneasy acting that delivers the perfect balance of ambivalence and malevolent intention—his character taking on an almost biblical role (suggestive of the binding of Isaac) that is central to the film’s exploration of what it means to atone for our transgressions.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer will no doubt divide its audience. The awkward mix of unconventional storytelling and inaccessible characters might be too impenetrable for some. For others (myself included), The Killing of a Sacred Deer remains a macabre psychological satire told in a very unique and refreshing way.
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