Yorgos Lanthimos’s America-set psychological horror film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, boasts such a fiendish premise that Alfred Hitchcock would have taken notes. As a second collaboration between Colin Farrell and Lanthimos, who’s fast become the reigning auteur of shock cinema, it proves the duo are a perfect match.
Dr. Stephen Murphy (Farrell) is a renowned heart surgeon. From the outside looking in, he’s the type who has it all: the high-paying job, the big house, the lovely kids (a boy and girl) and the beautiful wife (played by Nicole Kidman). But his peculiar relationship with teenager Martin (Barry Keoghan) threatens to unravel all he cherishes.
The Oscar-winning Greek director might have undertaken the routine journey across the pond, like so many European filmmakers before him, but Lanthimos has done it on his own terms. Nothing has been compromised, not that his latest is a particularly mainstream work. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, too, will likely face accusations of revelling in the disgusting and the bleak for arthouse kicks, yet this is not a film of empty provocation.
Underneath the absurdity and thriller-like plot twists pressuring Stephen into revealing secrets about his past and the unmasking of a hidden life, is a profound morality tale and human tragedy about accepting responsibility and trying to make amends.
As in The Lobster, the preference for actors speaking in staccato sentences and making deadpan observations or confessions provides queasy laughs. Farrell can even induce nervous chuckles with a mere look.
Nicole Kidman, too, is game for a creepy role as Mrs. Murphy, who on the surface might look to be the straight guy next to Farrell’s quirky weirdo, but she too is more than a bit odd. In one of the film’s most audaciously funny scenes, she acquiesces – as per what looks like a nightly routine – to her husband’s preferred method of love-making: acting the patient anaesthetised upon a table while he goes at it. Kidman’s no newbie, though, when it comes to doing outré things for directors. She has after all worked with Lars Von Trier in 2003’s Dogville, a role which demanded she spend most of the running time being abused as slave to an entire town.
Is it foolhardy to bust out the M-word? As old Jack Burton always said: “What the hell…” The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is a psycho-horror masterpiece which will haunt your mind like nothing else around.
The Killing Of A Sacred Deer was seen and reviewed at the Cannes Film Festival 2017.