Fantastic Fest 2017 Review – The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Yorgos Lanthimos’ films do not take place in this world. In his alternate world, people say things that would trigger people from our world. What’s considered inappropriate conversation here, is just another day in the life in the world Lanthimos has created. During The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Steven (Colin Farrell) casually tells his colleague that his daughter is experiencing her first menstrual cycle – he delivers that piece of information as casually as they would talk about what they had for breakfast. The dialogue is delivered in a near monotone voice, there’s little room for inflection in his films. The delivery frequently comes off as deadpan, our laughter acting as a release or as a self-defence mechanism for the squeamish things we’re witnessing during the movie. The Killing of a Sacred Deer goes down some dark paths, and Lanthimos is not concerned with your level of comfort.

The film opens with Steven meeting with a young boy called Martin (Barry Keoghan). Martin admires Steven, he frequently asks him questions, and is hell-bent on playing a larger part of Steven’s life. Steven takes measures to keep Martin a secret from everyone in his life until Martin completely forces him into his life by showing up at his work, and by calling him late at night. Martin is a little off, but he doesn’t feel threatening, until he absolutely becomes a force to be reckoned with. That’s about as far as we want to go with describing the plot of this film.

As previously mentioned, the dialogue delivery borders on monotone. This places a daring challenge on the actors in the film, they’re forced to use deliberate pacing with their delivery, and employ subtle facial expressions to display their emotions. Nicole Kidman plays Anna, Steven’s wife. Kidman is a force of nature. Her outstanding economy of movement gives the audience enough to know when she’s content, excited, or ready to kick some ass. It’s a subtle performance, worthy of much praise. The collective cast is aces. Farrell trusts Lanthimos’ direction, adding another fantastic role to Farrell’s best performances to date. Rising star Barry Keoghan knocks it out of the park with a nuanced role that is simultaneously sweet, innocent, and creepy. Some audience members will recognize him from Dunkirk, where he also delivered a beautiful performance.

Reflecting on the way people talk in this world, one can conclude that Lanthimos wants the collective people in our world to be more open with each other. Being open doesn’t always require 100% honesty, however. The notion of being offended is foreign to this world. There are moments that are crafted to make the audience feel uncomfortable, this is the way to “be the change you wish to see in this world!” Studying his films may offer a book of rules the characters follow with their style of speech.

There’s room to wonder what this film is really about, but this is arguably Lanthimos’ most straightforward narrative to date. This is no slight on the film – on the contrary, the clever plot gives Lanthimos and his team a deliciously wicked sandbox to play in. While watching the film, also consider that Lanthimos is Greek, that will provide many answers for any questions you may raise during and after the film. An underlying moral of this story is that we need to be accountable for the decisions we make. When one of the characters makes a mistake, they must pay the piper. The highest forms of art hold a mirror to society and there’s plenty of room to interpret that we’re all on trial here.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is visually stunning. The tracking shots in particular add to the narrative flow, making this the film equivalent to a page-turner. It feels like we’re peeking around the corner to see what he has cooking up for us next. The set design is pristine, and minimalist. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is beautifully shot by Thimios Bakatakis – who also shot Dogtooth and The Lobster. The camera movements have purpose and add a rich layer to the narrative experience.

Fans of Dogtooth and The Lobster will find much to enjoy with The Killing of a Sacred Deer. While we implied the basis is simple, processing the events we witness couldn’t be farther from simple. You will question motivation, morals, and choices. This film will initiate much discussion, and because each of us come into the movie with unique life experiences, we may all take something different out of the film. Yorgos Lanthimos is among the finest filmmakers working today, it’s refreshing to witness this artist challenge us with each film he makes.