Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer follows up his 2015 film The Lobster with just as much twisted absurdism and lashings of dark humour and sinister behaviour. 

Yorgos Lanthimos’ tales are pretty hard to get your head around. When he last came to our screens with The Lobster, his warped cinematic eye fascinated and disturbed audiences in equal measure. With his latest venture, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the Greek director has once again challenged the traditional expectations of cinema and delivered a devilishly dark, absurdist drama.

The premise of Lanthimos’ latest horror is as follows. Renowned heart surgeon Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is held to ransom by deranged teenager, Martin (Barry Keoghan) with unexplained powers to cause paralysis to those around him. His chosen victims are Murphy’s children, Bob (Sunny Suljic) and Kim (Raffey Cassidy), and wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman). Why inflict such pain on Steven’s family, you ask? It’s all in revenge for the accidental death of one of Murphy’s patients on the operating table, who turns out to be the father of Martin, who has been stalking his ‘murderer’ for some time.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Photo: HanWay Films/Channel 4 Films)

Nicole Kidman in The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Photo: HanWay Films/Channel 4 Films)

Whilst Farrell and Kidman’s performances are exquisitely detached as the couple at the helm of the family, his sexual fetish for performing sex acts on those under general anaesthetic being one of the most memorable scenes between the couple, credit must go to Keoghan for playing the most remarkably sinister sixteen year old maniac portrayed for some time on screen. His mental state is something akin to that of Kevin in Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, only more twisted and targeted towards his victim. He is helped in his performance by the stoicism of both Farrell, and in a less obvious way, Suljic, and the entrancing performance delivered by Cassidy as a lovestruck teen.

From the get go, this is a film that perpetuates tension. Billed as a psychological horror-thriller, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is unsettling from the very first shot to the very last. Lanthimos’ eye for an unnerving camera angle are complimented by supreme sound work, most notably in the repeated audial motif of a boiling kettle, and the alarming opening and closing scores, redolent of old fashioned cinema accompaniment music.

Barry Keoghan as the sinister Martin in The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Photo: HanWay Films/Channel 4 Films)

Barry Keoghan as the sinister Martin in The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Photo: HanWay Films/Channel 4 Films)

Strangely amusing in places, no less than during conversations about pubic hair, Kim’s menstrual cycle and Alicia Silverstone as Martin’s mother’s demand for Murphy to ‘taste my tart’, writers Lanthimos and Efthymis Filipoudialogue dialogue is delightfully stunted. His robotic characters perpetuate the  all-American successful family, with all their secrets bubbling away under or, in this case, very much on the surface. It’s no wonder the film took home the Best Screenplay Award at Cannes this year.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a slow burner. At 109 minutes, it feels strangely long, and it is a shame that it takes quite so long to get to the good stuff (or rather the bad stuff depending on your moral compass). But then Yorgos Lanthimos’ talent is buried deep in the build-up. By the end of the film, much like mother!, you’re left with a sense of deep displacement from the nuclear family, and a sense of self-questioning over your cinematic tastes. It’s haunting, disturbing and, for want of a better term, inexplicably fucked up, but you can’t deny The Killing of a Sacred Deer is mesmerising.

★★★★☆