Known for masterpieces such as The Lobster and Dogtooth, Yargos Lanthimos returns with a psychological thriller to end the year- The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
With extraordinary performances, harrowing imagery and a bizarre series of events, the film is Lanthimos’ finest piece of work yet even though it has been nicknamed the ‘feel bad film of the year’.
The plot sees a respected Irish doctor Steven with an idyllic life and perfect family setting, wife and two kids. He has a peculiar relationship with Martin, a boy whose father he killed during surgery in the past.
The first half of the film spends time explaining the situation the doctor is in and teaches us about his life- until his youngest son suddenly collapses and is paralysed.
With a superb cast starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Barry Keoghan and Alicia Silverstone, its needless to say that the delivery of each performance is second to none. The cast have a difficult task of executing Lanthimos’ twisted characters, all greedy and selfish in their own ways.
Based on the Greek myth of Iphigenia, the film takes a modern look on the 2,500 year old tale of Agamemnon accidentally killing a sacred deer and the tragic fortunes that follow him. It can be implied that in the film, Steven is Agamemnon, but as the second half progresses, we see the adaptation add fresh layers of meaning to the tale.
Lanthimos seamlessly blends themes and suggestions together- the film requires multiple viewings, as upon each viewing, a new detail or suggestion can be found.
Right off the bat, the Greek director warns his audience to brace themselves as the very first shot is that of a close up of a beating, pumping heart during surgery- telling us right off the bat, this is no ordinary film.
It is very rich in symbolism and encourages the viewer to think for themselves and figure out what each scene, each decision, really means. Sacred Deer is truly a piece of art- the kind of horror that isn’t frank gory horror, like Saw and isn’t quite as freakish as Aronofsky’s mother!, but bleeds both together to produce disturbing, uncanny and memorable scenes.
The characterisation in the film is frankly excellent. The actors don’t talk- they recite their lines in a banal, emotionless way. This makes for conversations about every day subject matters, like watches or dinners, carry an ominous taste. Just like the opening scene of the beating heart- we are being constantly reminded that something terrible is going to happen.
Perhaps some of this tension isn’t released fully throughout the film. The ending sees a climax, which may be a little late. Complications which arise throughout the film and lead to this deciding end slightly buckle, and the viewer is left dissatisfied. But perhaps that is Lanthimos’ aim- to provoke discussion, debate and to make the viewer think, not to comfort them.
Best suited for a mature audience, this is not a film for everyone. It’s not best suited for the squeamish, but more for the lover of horrific imagery and hyperreal fear.
Lanthimos has crafted yet again a true piece of art that stays with the viewer long after the initial watch; another fine example of thought-provoking, brilliantly executed cinema.