Yorgos Lanthimos makes stunning psycho-thriller debut with ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’
Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos came into the spotlight only a year ago with the release of The Lobster. The acclaimed film was set against a quirky premise: single people must find a mate within 45 days or be turned into animals and sent to the wild – sounds disastrous, but Lanthimos’s film-making skills coupled with an Academy Award-nominated original script resulted in a resounding black comedy.
Only a year later, Lanthimos and his writers return with his newest film and first foray into the world of the Psychological Thriller in The Killing of A Sacred Deer, which sees Lanthimos reunite with his The Lobster leading star Colin Farrell once again. Joining Farrell in supporting roles are megastar Nicole Kidman, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, and breakout star Barry Keoghan.
The film follows cardiologist Steven Murphy whose life is forever altered when the sinister son of a previous patient of his enters his life and spells trouble for him and his family: wife, son, and daughter. A grave decision sees the relationships between the Murphys intensify and fall apart as Lanthimos pushes the limits of human nature, posing important questions for the viewer along the way.
Farrell and Kidman unsurprisingly impress in their roles. No strangers to characters that demand such personal emotional investment, they bring shades of depth to their parts even though both initially appear to come out of a The Stepford Wives suburb. In Farell’s Steven, we see a doctor wrestling his conscience and trying to make amends for past grievances; in Kidman’s Anna, we see a dominant, seemingly-perfect wife and doctor figure whose flaws slowly make themselves visible to the viewer.
That being said, it is Barry Keoghan’s turn as the troubled Martin that steals the show. Fresh off his Dunkirk success, where he plays the small but important role of a sailor’s hand, Keoghan brings a deeply unnerving cynicism to his role that keeps the viewer guessing throughout most of the movie, even after his motives are revealed. While that may not be anything new, the combination of the young actor’s talent with Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou’s effortlessly eerie writing make for a superbly-paced and presented descent into what lies beyond the striking visage of Martin.
The film is rich in subplots that remain untapped yet are somehow equally satiating. We are first introduced to two of the main characters: Steven Murphy, an established, well-respected surgeon, and Martin, an eccentric boy whose father had been a patient of Steven’s. For a lengthy portion of the film’s 2-hour run, the relationship between the two is put under the microscope. While there is no denying the homoertic undertones of how each interacts with the other (though less reciprocated on Steven’s part), the viewer soon learns that there are underlying facets to the motives that drive each towards the other, from guilt to kinship to erotic infatuation, translating into one of the most complex on-screen relationships in recent memory.
This is palpable in Lanthimos’s style. His signature tracking shots exude a sense of being watched or followed, with Steven as the target. Even more striking is the silence that attends to Steven and Martin’s often off-handish interactions — another of Lanthimos’s style quirks. This is also reflected in the abrupt and submissive exchanges Steven has with his wife, Anna, played by Kidman. The atmosphere around the two is uncomfortable to say the least, and the tension between the them only increases as the plot thickens. The result is a terrifically chilling and unsettling arena in which Lanthimos drives his story.
While at times it feels like the story takes some arbitrary turns and Lanthimos loses his viewers in the metaphysical nuances of the film, leaving some unanswered questions by the time the closing credits roll, what Lanthimos accomplishes with his film is a dark exploration of – and commentary on – human morality and society.
In a genre that has of late seen a surge in subtle and well-made additions (the likes of Get Out and It Comes At Night come to mind), Lanthimos’s debut truly shines above all else. Arguably one of the best films of the year so far, The Killing of a Sacred Deer looks, feels, and sounds like a true psychological thriller all the while championing its director’s very distinctive style. With such fascinating features in his repertoire, Yorgos Lanthimos presents himself as an exciting force to be reckoned with in the industry, one that will not go unnoticed for much longer.