DIR: Yorgos Lanthimos • WRI: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Fillipou • PRO: Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos, Andrew Lowe • DOP: Thimos Bakatakis • DES: Jade Healy • Ed: Yorgos Mavropsaradis • CAST: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone
Steven Murphy (Farrell) is an affluent surgeon, married to Anna (Kidman) and with two children Kim (Cassidy) and Bob (Suljic). Steven also has a strange relationship with a teenage boy Martin (Keoghan). They meet up for meals, Steven gives Martin presents. As events progress it becomes clear that Steven may feel a debt of responsibility towards Martin over a botched operation he performed on his father. When Steven introduces Martin to his family, a surreal, piercing, complex cycle of revenge is set in motion.
Working once again with Element Pictures, Lanthimos retains and expands upon his singular authorial style with this gripping, formally brilliant, cruelly hilarious art-thriller. The film veers closer to genre than Lanthimos’ other work but it retains his signature style and off-kilter humour. The deadpan delivery seen in his other work is retained here but there is a little bit more emotion allowed in the actors’ delivery. The film has a real uncompromising edge in how nasty it can be, something which is particularly heartening to see in an Irish production.
In terms of Lanthimos’ humour, this is a filmmaker, in keeping with others such as Luis Buñuel or Todd Solondz, who has a genuine knack of making one laugh riotously at the saddest and cruellest aspects of life. Elements of his trademark flat dialogue allow for the absurdity of life situations, no matter how horrific, to shine true when vacated of emotion. Lanthimos is also always keen to point out the baseness of people’s motives; a character is forced to perform a sexual favour on a colleague in exchange for information in a situation of immense crisis, Steven responds to Martin’s claims, not with reasoning but with anger and threat of violence.
Also interesting is how Lanthimos paints the relationships within the Murphy family unit and how this plays into the tale as it unfolds. It is clear that both Steven and Anna favour a different one of their children, something which enriches a later dilemma proposed to them. Lanthimos also draws attention to the underlying animalism inherent in the family unit by showing that Steven’s sexual preferences are for Anna to pretend that she is under anaesthetic while he has sex with her. Martin’s unfolding revenge on Steven could be seen as a commentary on class relations and responsibility. The film could also be interpreted as a religious allegory, however like Lanthimos’ other films, the beauty of the film lies in its ambiguity, its attention to details and the questions it raises.
Barry Keoghan is the standout in a uniformly excellent cast, striking a perfect balance between tragic vulnerability and otherworldly menace. An exceptional scene sees him deliver a lightning fast explanation to Steven as to what exactly he plans for his family. Farrell, once again, excels under this filmmaker, imbuing his character with a rich combination of guilt and arrogance. Kidman’s excellent qualities are also fitting for Lanthimos’ style; illustrating a strong character, eliciting some sympathy but also retaining an iciness and an unpredictability. There are also two outstanding young performances in Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic, as Steven’s children, who prove integral to Martin’s strategy of retribution.
Formally this is Lanthimos’ most accomplished film to date. Thimos Bakatakis’ supreme, Kubrickian cinematography is composed in a clinical, ominous way with frequent long takes and brooding tracking shots. Jade Healy’s production design is equally evocative of the strange, disquieting world of the film. Lanthimos’ use of music, too, brilliantly contributes to the sense of unease. This is a film with an invigorating, unshakeable formal ambience.
A nasty, hilarious, distinctive treat. Highly recommended.
16 (See IFCO for details)
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is released 3rd November 2017