“Yorgos Lanthimos’ psychological thriller is something of a fable, rich with metaphors and mythological parallels.”
For those of you that have seen Yorgos Lanthimos’ previous outing, The Lobster, the rather eery stylistic approach of his latest piece, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, will be all too familiar.
With unnaturally stilted delivery and distracted, truncated conversations, the characters go about their roles in the most ‘wooden’ manner that you could possibly imagine.
Of course, that’s actually all part of the set-up here, and considering Lanthimos’ film boasts the likes of Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell among its number, it’s highly unlikely that any such wooden aspersions could possibly relate to the actual acting ability of the excellent cast. But it certainly all makes for another odd, yet intriguing outing from the Lanthimos stable – one which takes care to examine such themes as guilt and responsibility, as well as the biblical concept of an eye for an eye.
Top surgeon, Stephen Murphy (Farrell), carries with him a terrible burden. A botched surgery some years earlier – whilst apparently under the influence of alcohol – had resulted in the unfortunate death of a man. With a wife and two lovely children to support, it’s important that Stephen does not allow the burdens of his past to drag him down and dictate his life. Yet every so often the guilt seems to eat him up. These pangs of remorse always seem to coincide with the frequent occasions that he spends in the company of a teenage boy, Martin (Barry Keoghan). Whilst it initially appears that Stephen may have taken the boy under his wing, adopting some kind of career mentor role, the truth, and rather unnerving reason for Martin’s virtual omnipresence in Stephen’s life gradually becomes apparent, and increasingly, by way of some rather strange and sinister goings on, it leaves the beleaguered surgeon to deal with a classic case of Hobson’s choice.
Whatever you might make of Lanthimos’ film – and the response that I’ve encountered has been varied – there’s no doubting that thanks to its unusual direction, a warped (in a good way) sense of fun, characters bordering on the robotic, and all-round levels of disturbing oddity, The Killing of a Sacred Deer effortlessly burns its way into the old grey matter, and stays there.
Arguably most memorable of all though is the film’s stunning cinematography; superbly strong enduring visual imagery that can probably best be described as minimal meets clinical. Scenes shot within the confines of the hospital walls are particularly visually arresting, making strong use of a restrictive almost monochrome palette, and little or no room is given to the relative comfort and reassuring warmth that bold colours would bring.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ psychological thriller is something of a fable, rich with metaphors and mythological parallels. A truly dystopian vision that devilishly pokes at our most deep-seated fears, and straddles the divide between dark, inappropriately jocular, and absurdly disturbing.
Above everything though, The Killing of a Sacred Deer offers a stark reminder that ‘true happiness’ is only ever a temporary state of events, and that we’re all never more than a brief moment of misfortune or negligence from having it, and everything that it represents, come crashing down around us.
In this case, the ultimate, self-inflicted souring of the American dream.