Fantastic Fest 2017: THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER —The Sins of the Father and Inescapable Biblical…

Yorgos Lanthimos brings absurdity to a world of absolutes

After making his mark with Kinetta, Alps, and 2009’s Oscar-nominated Dogtooth, Yorgos Lanthimo rose to greater prominence in 2015 with The Lobster. That film, starring Colin Farrell, depicted a twisted alternate reality where single people are sent to hotels to be paired off, where failure to find ‘love’ meant being transformed into an animal of their own choosing, a state in which they would live out the rest of their days. Both beautiful and bleak, it was above all incisive and darkly hilarious. The latest feature from the filmmaker, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, continues his distinct approach, hitting harder than ever before in his most affecting work yet.

Colin Farrell returns as Steven, a heart surgeon that seemingly has it all: an accomplished career, a beautiful wife (Nicole Kidman), and two ‘talented’ kids, Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic). Life seems idyllic, but Steven is harboring a secret relationship with a strange boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan), a bond forged after the boy’s father died on Steven’s operating table a few years earlier. Steven eventually invites Martin into his home to meet his family, an occasion where the boy makes a connection with young Kim. In the aftermath of the dinner, Martin tries to pair Steven with his bereaved mother. After his efforts are rebuffed, the boy’s attitude take a dark turn. Meeting Steven after Bob falls ill, he details the progression of his sickness and warns that the rest of his family will fall to the same fate unless Steven makes a choice, one that will save his wife and children while satiating the justice sought by Martin over the death of his father.

While the plot sounds like rather traditional genre fare, it’s Lanthimos’s approach that sets it apart. The Greek filmmaker has a distinct style, both in terms of writing and coaxing a particular delivery from his actors. It’s largely bereft of emotion, with long stretches of dialogue, overly explaining both action and motive, using words that many would think in their minds yet fail to mutter in open conversation, all with an emotionless monotone. It adds a layer of absurdity and hilarity to an examination of deep themes, during the deeply disturbing events that unfold.

Despite sounding like something of a revenge tale, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is posed as something altogether more karmic. The sins of the father catch up to a family, who are forced to confront difficult choices amidst actions of self-sacrifice and self preservation. Lanthimos creates a world less eccentric than that of The Lobster, but one that is morally black and white. Biblical law prevails, where an eye for an eye is the most fitting justice, with Martin sitting as a blank, righteous entity above the fray. Steven is being judged, his hand is ultimately forced, and a toll is horrifically exacted.

Colin Farrell is superb, once again proving the perfect conduit for Lanthimo’s voice. While emotions are tempered, he convincingly runs the seven stages of grief, as his past wreaks havoc on his present. Kidman matches his embrace of the material, while bringing to the film a necessary nuanced condemnation of her husband. Cassidy and Suljic slot remarkably into this the rhythms of this world, most notably in a scene of one-upmanship where they try to convince each other that they are the favored child. It’s also great to see Alicia Silverstone as Martin’s mother, who makes the most of some limited screentime with some of the best lines in the film. Above it all is Keoghan. It’s mesmerizing work, and stunning how he elicits empathy, awe, and emanates a sociopathic chill, embodying all that Lanthimos aspires to in this piece.

While visuals are not overtly creepy, using a modern home and medical facility, Lanthimos drives home the sense of unease in a number of ways. Long sweeping camera shots along hospital corridors hearken back to The Shining, shots from above, below, peering into events. If you’ve ever caught a glimpse of someone in a hospital being given bad news, the whole film feels like it’s from a similar viewpoint, personally intrusive and very unsettling. This intense gaze and feel is given starker focus by cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis and sound designer Johnnie Burn (Under the Skin), brought home by a brutally effective score. While bleak, the deadpan delivery and sheer absurdity of this world and its characters mark The Killing of a Sacred Deer as one of the most hilarious films of the festival. No matter how wildly inappropriate it seems.

We all have thoughts we want to share, words we want to say, but cannot. Yorgos Lanthimos once again peels back that veneer of polite society to craft a disturbing delight. A singular cinematic voice, he demonstrates an ability to meld humor and horror in an examination of humanity like no one else. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is bold and uncompromised filmmaking that stands as one of the best releases of the year.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is released on November 3rd

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