Fantastic Fest Review: ‘THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER’ – pure psychological horror


James Cole Clay // Film Critic


Rated R, 109 min
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Alicia Silverstone, Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic

It seems that the biggest complaint for Yorgos Lanthimos’ films is they don’t seem to make much sense. The films the Greek director make are sick of dealing with the common courtesies of social interactions. His dialogue is humorous and jarring, so it could be a warranted complaint that his films don’t quite add up to some.

His latest THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is his second dive into English language and his first coming stateside, which is no accident that it’s most haunting film to date. This film is controlled chaos that’s meticulous and unkind to the characters and audience alike. Reward comes within the fabric, while unraveling a film can cause it to fall apart — in the case of Lanthimos’ work, picking details apart only makes it a stronger piece of filmmaking.

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER isn’t THE LOBSTER part two; this story is a tight thriller where we are introduced to the pragmatic surgeon Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), whose developed an odd but seemingly appropriate relationship with a peculiar teenage boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan). They exchange niceties and Steven provides Martin with gifts. Lanthimos quietly lets us into their dynamic with a deadpan delivery of dialogue that has echoes of THE LOBSTER, with a more nihilistic set of rules that aren’t looking for logic or emotion.

The creepiness of Keoghan was littered throughout the film. Photo courtesy of A24.

The Greek auteur’s work has a cold, methodical feel that contradicts the loving life Steven is living with his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their two children Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bobby (Sunny Suljic). They live in a posh house, drive Range Rovers, go to private school — the whole deal, which dwarfs Martin’s lifestyle who resides in a modest home with his whacky mother (Alicia Silverstone). Life isn’t fair, but Lanthimos and screenwriting partner Efthymis Filippou are all about leveling the playing field for the Murphy family who genuinely care for one another. The power of love causes an imbalance and the only way to counter act that is horror, violence and an undying anxiety that you could lose the one you care for most.

Like Lanthimos’ DOGTOOTH (about overprotective parents), SACRED DEER shows what its like to love someone so much it can perhaps cause mental and physical paralysis. Is this a metaphor for the events of the film, perhaps? The film’s engine comes from the work of Keoghan — who gave a fairly silent performance in DUNKIRK this summer — who sets the inexplicable events into motion. Martin has a greasy and child-like innocence about him, which is set against a deeply troubled psychology relating to the death of his father. Lanthimos and Keoghan handle this character elegantly as he’s orchestrating an intangible horror that’s affecting the Murphy family look for Keoghan to break out in a big way following this role.

This is Farrell and Lanthimos’ second collaboration, and while he’s very good, it’s Kidman, once again who reinvents herself with a restrained role that is strong, sexy and has all the nuance of a person who sees her life slipping out of control from no fault of her own. (With BIG LITTLE LIES, Kidman is really killing it this year.)

KILLING OF A SACRED DEER treats love as a disease, one that must be evaporated to live an efficient life. And while the romantic side of a person is hard to turn off, the fight for survive is much stronger.

Grade: A-

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER opens in some markets on Oct. 20 and will expand in the weeks following.

About author

James C. Clay

James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.