An operatic overture blasting over the graphic sight of a beating human heart, exposed for surgery, alerts the audience that they’ve just entered the strange and surreal world of Yorgos Lanthimos.
Those who have seen his English-language film The Lobster will know that this Greek filmmaker is the heir apparent to David Lynch and Luis Buñuel in his ability to make the absurd feel disconcerting. And on the strength of his new film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, he’s learned a few tricks from Kubrick as well.
Having already navigated the alternate universe of The Lobster, Colin Farrell plays cardiologist Steven Murphy, whose wife (Nicole Kidman at her frosty best) and children are unaware of his association with an intense 16-year-old boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan). Although not sexual, the relationship between the two is disturbing, and when the true nature of their bond is revealed, it will have a no less devastating impact on Steven’s family.
It’s best to go into this film with minimal knowledge of the plot, however those familiar with the Greek tragedy of Iphigenia will recognise the significance of the title.
“this bizarre and brilliant nightmare will restore your faith in filmmaking as an art form”
Lanthimos’s trademark use of stilted dialogue, deadpan performances and frank sexuality conjure a mounting sense of unease that often teeters into black comedy. Asides over wristwatches and armpit hair appear ludicrous but serve to accentuate the disquieting mood, as does Steven and his wife’s bedroom play, which requires her to assume the “general anaesthetic” position.
Unlike the more outrageous premise of The Lobster (singles must choose a partner or be turned into an animal of their choice), The Killing of a Sacred Deer evokes the disturbing domestic horror of his 2009 film Dogtooth, in which a father’s actions subvert and threaten the family dynamic.
It’s also pure cinema – the camera fixed and observing from above, gliding down hospital corridors in a long tracking shot, or transforming ordinary settings into something grandiose or alien. Discordant music punctuates the proceedings, inviting comparisons to Under the Skin and Eyes Wide Shut, which also share the cold and formal style favoured by Lanthimos.
A meditation on guilt, atonement and sacrifice, this bizarre and brilliant nightmare will restore your faith in filmmaking as an art form and leave you grateful there are directors like Yorgos Lanthimos out there to counter Hollywood’s generic output.
In cinemas: November 16, 2017
Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos