The Killing of a Sacred Deer: NZIFF Review
As darkly black as they come and as uncomfortable as you may expect from the director of The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is an unmissable Film Fest experience.
In other hands this could easily have been a horror, but under Lanthimos' unswerving eye, it's his usual combination of both the weird and also the devilish, which cause you to squirm uncomfortably in your seat. As demonstrated with The Lobster and Dogtooth, Lanthimos has a way of creating a world that's self-contained and populated with a veneer that doesn't quite feel right, but feels drily plausible.
A heavily-bearded Colin Farrell plays heart surgeon Steven, whose journey begins post-surgery discussing the banality of a new watch that he needs with his colleague. As they stalk the halls of the immeasurably clinical hospital where they work, Steven talks in a staccato robotic turn of phrase, with the inane sounding incredibly offbeat, almost as if a robot synthesiser programme has followed a series of sub-routines and thrown out something that could pass for conversation.
Steven's life appears fine - he has a wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and a daughter and son. He also has a friendship with a young boy Martin (Dunkirk star Barry Keoghan) that seems a little unusual at best.
But as the black humour and the film plays out, that relationship with Martin becomes key to proceedings as retribution, guilt and Greek tragedy begins to bite. To say more is to spoil the reveals of the film, which come gradually and powerfully as it unspools.
Lanthimos isn't interested in moralising in his latest - and it's clear that pretty much everyone has something to hide in the film, giving it a dangerous edge and a warped sense of desperation. As Martin's obsession grows, the long slow shots that Lanthimos injects into the film and the darker edges become almost unbearable, blessing proceedings with a quite horrific dread that spreads malignantly and quickly.
Many spend time remarking on Steven's hands in this film and how clean they are. It's a delicious irony that they're anything but, and with Farrell's cool veneer losing its grip the more it carries on, the film's more absurdist edges actually become more plausible and all the more horrific because of it.
If Farrell and Kidman are unswervingly staunch, it's Keoghan's malicious Martin that impresses most. With a cold, clear sense of warped logic, his path to the punishing plays out with an underplayed edge; his calmness makes everything seem that more sinister and disquieting.
Ultimately, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a bold film - it pushes some buttons excellently, but Lanthimos knows when to hold off, when to hold his nerve and when to put the audience through the wringer. Much like The Lobster set things with a bittersweet off-kilter feel, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is truly knuckle-clenching. Like a master, Lanthimos leads us to the final destination and we arrive at it, breathless and wrought with the horror of the ride. It's compellingly grim cinema at its dark unpunishable best.