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Film Review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer @ London Film Festival 2017

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Yorgos Lanthimos is now well established as one of the most daring and creative directors with his weird and wonderful creations Dogtooth (2009) and The Lobster (2015). Now, Lanthimos is back with what may be the craziest films of the year.

Opening with a rather vague narrative, The Killing of a Sacred Deer sucks you in because you’re watching with so much focus, desperate for some clarity in the narrative.

Keeping us engaged initially are the human interactions. After staring at a beating human heart inside an open chest for the very beginning moments of the film, the first scene is an extended conversation between Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) and a fellow doctor at the hospital where they work, where they discusses different styles of watches. It’s got the same appeal as the classic ‘royale with cheese’ Pulp Fiction scene- an ordinary conversation we can’t help but be engrossed by.

Not telling us much for a large portion of the film, all we know to start is that Farrell’s character has an oddly close relationship to a teenage boy, Martin (Barry Keoghan). As things progress, it is revealed that Martin is some kind of force for karma against Steven’s family, after it is revealed that Martin’s father died after one of Steven’s operations. He demands a sacrifice from Steven’s own family, as if to make them even.

Once this aspect to the narrative is revealed, it becomes clear why this film is being marketed as a horror/thriller. You don’t really know what to make of it until this darker aspect to the film gets revealed. It gets very uncomfortable, very quickly. Not only does the score grow more dramatic and disturbing, but Steven’s children lose the ability to walk and his son even bleeds from his eyes.

Martin quickly becomes a very distressing character with some kind of spiritual yet evil ability to make justice a physical force. The themes in the film grow so dark and troubling that it creates an uncomfortable anxiety in the pit of your stomach.

Performing with Lanthimos’ trademark deadpan dialogue delivery, the plainness of their speech is both hilarious and awkward in equal measure; it’s such a fantastically creative way to elicit laughs, while also making a point, but you have to tap into your darker humour to be amused by this.

Colin Farrell alongside Nicole Kidman who plays his loving wife Anna are wholeheartedly committed to executing Lanthimos’ unique style effectively, as are Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic who play the children Kim and Bob Murphy. Finding young actors with such versatility and an ability to perform in such an unconventional style is pretty special.

But the absolute show stealer is Dublin born Barry Keoghan. He wholly becomes this troubling character. His voice and mannerisms are scarily authentic in the persona of a disturbed boy.

There really isn’t any other film like this one. Even when the credits roll, there is no relief from the palpable tension this film creates. No music, just a hollow, airy score which forces the content of the film to stay right at the surface.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer certainly isn’t for everyone, but it will do something to anyone.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer screened as part of the 2017 BFI London Film Festival this October. Further details can be found here.

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