The Killing of a Sacred Deer (UK/Ireland 2017)
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is one of the strangest revenge films I’ve seen, not so much in the execution of the revenge itself as with what motivates it in the first place, although the execution of the revenge is as original as any I’ve ever encountered, be it in film, literature or myth. It is an astounding film and having seen it at the Arclight Theater in Hollywood, I can understand why the film was the most talked about at Cannes.
If you have grown accustomed to the evolution of Yorgos Lanthimos’ films with each successive entry (Dogtooth, Alps, The Lobster etc) you will be entranced by Killing. Like the films of Kubrick or Anderson or von Trier and a range of others, no one else makes films that look like Lanthimos’ – like him or not, his work is unmistakably his. There is no director I can think of, not even Park Chan-Wook or Lars von Trier or even the stunning rise of the American Tyler Sheridan whose work I anticipate more than Lanthimos.
I watch enough global cinema to know who I like but not enough to know who is trendy, yet when I saw Dogtooth seven or eight years ago, I knew I’d seen something completely different, and it was refreshing (I got my parents to watch it, and even though they aren’t particularly adventurous in what they choose to watch, they both liked it as well). Like Harmony Korine’s Gummo, Dogtooth was simply different than any film ever made before it, not necessarily a good thing but at least I could walk away and feel like I’d seen something fresh and original (intentionally or not, in Killing there is a major allusion to Gummo in a scene which the boy eats a plate of spaghetti).
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is much better than anything Lanthimos has directed and it is one of the best films I’ve seen this year (I rank it with A Ghost Story and The Beguiled in terms of what I think is best). Barry Keoghan (you’ll recognize him from Dunkirk if you saw it) quite simply gives the performance of the year as Martin, a very innocent looking teenager who hatches a revenge plot against a surgeon that is quite simply inexplicable – it might as well be witchcraft and without giving anything away, the film actually toys with this notion and the audience in the most powerful scene between Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman alluding to just that.
A watermark of a Lanthimos film is his insistence on deadpan dialogue delivery from his actors as well as lines of dialogue that come so far out of left field they can’t be repeated as that would spoil the fun. Colin Farrell is ideally suited for this style (I think he’s underrated as an actor, and it appears that True Detective S2 revived a career that seems like it was on life support), Nicole Kidman less so, but Keoghan is perfect for it – he should be in every one of Lanthimos’ films from hereonout, although I doubt we could be so lucky.
The film opens with a long, single shot, close-up, of a beating heart contained in an open chest, and it concludes with a breathtaking act of tortured violence. What happens in-between is a mixture of the surreal and the darkly comic, the boy’s hold over a doctor and his family growing stranger and more acute with each scene. Lanthimos manages to capture in his opening the perfect metaphor for what is to follow in much the same way that Tom Ford did in last year’s Nocturnal Animals.
I’m not going to give away any plot details except to tell you it’s about a boy taking revenge on a surgeon – the film’s trailer gives away a bit more, but if you saw The Lobster, you’ll know if this is for you even though it’s far superior. Once again, outstanding work from Lanthimos.