3 (out of 4)
Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos acquired the attention of many an American film viewer (myself included) with his idiosyncratic romance The Lobster. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a slightly more conventional next step in his directing career, but a prickly, perverse one at that.
Aligned with the pitch black comedy and bizarrely grim premise of his famous feature Dogtooth, Lanthimos takes Sacred Deer to even more unsettlingly ambiguous tonal tremors. This is the first film of his worth considering as Kubrickian: beyond some seismic low shots in dialogue and some one-point perspective, the film’s use of slow zooms and an eerie, haunted soundtrack provides echoes of The Shining despite many other differences.
Colin Farrell submits a capacity-expanding performance as ignorant surgeon Stephen Murphy – one of a similar kind of calculated restraint as his role in the director's last film – while Nicole Kidman does what she does best in the motherly role not unlike several others of hers as Anna. The real bravura acting in The Killing of a Sacred Deer is from Dunkirk actor Barry Keoghan as the queer and vindictive teenager Martin, as well as Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic as Murphy's daughter and younger son. The youth are hysterical at times and their effect on the film defines it as distressingly tense and often absurdly awkward. The film is such a tough nut to crack despite being relatively straightforward in story because of their almost robotic emotion.
There’s nothing metaphorical occurring here per se as in Lanthimos' past work, and the real world sensibility makes Sacred Deer’s smallest touches of oddity feel ever more wrong. I can see this film being torture for viewers as much as it is for Steven Murphy, but sympathy is not asked for nor encouraged for in partaking in such a psychologically maddening affair.
To keep it brief...