The Killing of a Sacred Deer (4 stars)

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Cannes 2017: Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman star in Yorgos Lanthimos's twisted horror

The first film that springs to mind when watching this deeply disturbing psychological horror from director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, Dogtooth) is Cronenberg's Dead Ringers. In the opening scene, a beating heart is laid out on the operating table to provide a gruesome reminder of the fragility of life. Colin Farrell plays Steven, a cardiac surgeon who is forced to deal with matters of the heart in a cold and scientific manner on a daily basis but when his family are threatened with an inexplicable paralysis sickness he begins to crack under the pressure.

There are shades of Haneke's Funny Games and Kubrick's The Shining in this disquieting disintegration of a wealthy family man, yet it also has a twisted 90s thriller vibe to it. An intense turn from Barry Keoghan as creepy teenage stalker Martin is devilishly good. He becomes obsessed with the surgeon, his wife Anna (an icy Nicole Kidman) and their two children, Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic), and his intimidating presence adds to a sinister and oppressive ambience. The Lanthimos trademarks such as deadpan dialogue and dark humour conspire to create an odd, heightened reality where deeply distressing flashes of cruelty sit beside weirdly haunting images and hilarious bursts of confession.

At first it is not clear what kind of relationship exists between Martin and Steven. Is it sexual or is it an encouraging mentorship? To reveal that would be to give the game away, as much of the film is spent laying down juicy intrigue and suspense. The score pounds violently when the two are together and off-kilter strings guide the family up grand staircases and down concrete basement steps with a glacial potency.

Anna and Steven contemplate the ghastly and unthinkable in their discussions on human life, and at one point a character mentions the tragic Greek tale of Iphigenia. Lanthimos and regular co-writer Efthymis Filippou deal with their themes of control, sacrifice, judgement and revenge with a chilling and operatic despair that swells to an overwhelmingly powerful degree.

Screening as part of the Cannes Film Festival 2017. General release TBC.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • UK / Ireland
  • 1h 49min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
  • Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Alicia Silverstone

Steven (Farrell) is a cardiac surgeon who finds himself being stalked by a creepy teenager, martin (Keoghan); then Steven’s family is threatened with an inexplicable sickness. Lanthimos’s trademark deadpan dialogue and dark humour exist alongside distressing flashes of cruelty. Chilling, powerful and disturbing.