The Killing of a Sacred Deer is opaque and captivating. From the audacious opening shot showing what must be real open heart surgery, until its sinister finale, it packs an outrageous impact and a consistently unnerving tone, all wrapped up in the driest of humour.
An opening back-and-forth conversation between two colleagues about the respective water resistance of their wristwatches sets the tone for a film featuring characters who are very comfortable in their own woodenness, even if it’s hilariously jarring for the viewer. The film immediately introduces some mystifying character relationships. Steven (Colin Farrell) is a cardiologist, married to Anna (Nicole Kidman), an optometrist. The couple have two children and they speak to each other clinically and bluntly. When in bed, ‘general anaesthetic’ is code for Anna to assume the position of an anaesthetised patient. Even more strange is Steven’s relationship with Martin (Barry Keoghan), a teenager who Martin meets with remotely and showers with gifts. Is it sexual? Or something else? The film maintains ambiguity for so long that the tension ratchets uncontrollably.
Sacred Deer is wrapped in the driest of humour. Martin’s idea of cocktail party smalltalk involves news of his daughter’s first menstruation, mentioned matter-of-factly and without context. The odd tone is guaranteed to be polarising for audiences, with director and co-writer Yorgos Lanthimos aiming to captivate with a clinical and unsettling tone over dramatic realism. Every shot is lush with detail, from the eerily white and quiet hospital sets, to the alluring angles uncovering meaning from emotionless conversations. The uncomfortableness of the dialogue eventually gets rewarded as the film veers closer and deeper into the realm of psychological horror as Martin is faced with an unnerving decision involving his family. The eventual finale is outrageous, its ultimate meaning still not abundantly clear, but the film earns every right to provoke its outrage.
Review by David Rank
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is out now in the UK. Certificate 15 (UK). Running time: 121 mins.