Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone
BFI London Film Festival Review by Chris Olson
Side effects may include total paralysis of the soul in Yorgos Lanthimos’s psychological drama/thriller/mystery The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which screened at the 2017 BFI London Film Festival, and bears some telling scars as the follow up to The Lobster. Told with clinical filmmaking precision and incredible performances, this is a story that will numb and disturb audiences in brilliant, equal measure.
Colin Farrell plays Dr Steven Murphy, a successful surgeon with beautiful hands, whose picture perfect home life comes under threat after befriending the son (Barry Keoghan) of a patient who lost their life on his operating table. Initially showing numerous acts of kindness and affection to the awkward boy, Steven becomes increasingly wary of Martin (Keoghan), especially once he starts to make threats towards Steven’s family. Loving, if slightly sterile, wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy), and son Bob (Sunny Suljic) all become players in a disturbing game of mysterious retribution and calculated suffering.
There is a cold detachment to all of the characters in Lanthimos’s story (co-written with Efthymis Filippou), who enjoy polite and convivial interactions with each other at all times but rarely showing any form of excess emotion. Behaviours such as shouting, crying, laughing all seem absent in every aspect of their lives but no one seems to be particular upset about it. It is as if they are under a very strong sedative. And this atmosphere of clinical procedure is masterfully reflected in the filmmaking, which utilises high-angle, slow zooms a plethora of times to create a sense of looking down on an operation and working out what the hell is going on. Many times the camera will slowly track the cast from behind and above too, eliciting a strong sense of isolation for the audience.
Farrell and Kidman enjoy a spectacular chemistry that seems as if the main ingredient is morphine, and can appear lifeless in the first third of the movie. However, once the plot of The Killing of a Sacred Deer becomes more apparent, the vice-like grip it has had on you will keep you utterly glued to their relationship and how it is affected by this We Need to Talk About Kevin-like menace that has entered their lives. Which brings us on to Barry Keoghan. I am a big fan of Keoghan, having seen him chew up and spit our numerous short films with impressive acting chops. However, this is an absolutely career-defining performance from Keoghan. He is completely captivating throughout, turning in a character who is both goofy and monstrous, which is an incredible feat. Every scene with him in is like watching a pubescent Hannibal Lectre or George Harvey.
There is a fantastic sound design in The Killing of a Sacred Deer from Johnnie Burn, who, along with his musical team, create an immense atmosphere of chilling horror, intense psychological musings, and euphoric orchestral releases, that become the emotional cues for the viewer to be engulfed by.
Few movies can create and sustain this bleakly numbing atmosphere in a way that is totally compelling. The injection of black comedy is consistent and massively effective, and the more disturbing elements are drip-fed with skill and tact. The outcome is a marvellous success, and once the effect on this film reviewer has subsided, I hope to make a full recovery.
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