I exited cinema one at Luna Palace Leederville and stepped into the perfect warmness of a Saturday afternoon. It starkly contrasted the chilling atmosphere I was immersed in during the sensationally dark thriller, The Killing of a Sacred Deer—a film by Yorgos Lanthimos.
If you are a fan of the Greek film producer’s previous absurdist films, such as Dogtooth (2009) and The Lobster (2015), then you’ll surely enjoy his latest work—a continuation in idiosyncrasy.
The opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the film—it begins with an actual human heart, silently beating away on the screen. The audience has no choice but to watch this pulsating human organ, for what seemed like a solid five minutes, before the camera shot pans out to depict the surgeon, Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), operating on a patient.
Dr Steven Murphy is a wealthy, renowned, cardiovascular surgeon. He presides over an immaculate house with his ophthalmologist wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and two role model children, 12-year-old Bob (Sunny Suljian) and 14-year-old Kim (Raffey Cassidy).
The Murphy household is presented as an exemplary family. Sitting at the dinner table, conversation is simple. The actors dialogue is monotonous and empty—devoid of emotion. They talk about haircuts: “We all have lovely hair,” Anna says. As the audience observes this anything-but-small-talk, a solemn intensity is lurking in the margins of their idyllic suburban existence.
This feeling builds when Martin (Barry Keoghan), a fatherless 16-year-old, arrives. Steven acts as a father figure to the boy—possibly out of guilt since Martin’s father died while he was operating on him. But when Martin starts imbedding himself into the family in ever-creepier ways, the plot takes a turn for the worst.
Who is Martin? Wide eyed and unknowingly dangerous, is he masking something darker?
What does he want, this boy with a face both innocent and cunning?
It becomes menacingly clear to Steven as he realises Martin’s evil and sickly revenge plan, which requires him to make a sacrifice no father would want to face.
What is the long-forgotten transgression that will fracture the Murphy family?
The title of the film alludes to the Greek myth of Iphigenia: she was offered as a sacrifice by her father, Agamemnon, to satisfy the goddess Artemis, after he offended her. But Lanthimos takes a different direction with in the film: Martin is no angry goddess—he’s a confused teenager, looking for revenge in ways that are hard to grasp.
Prior to viewing this film, I had not seen any films by Lanthimos, and after watching the trailer for The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I was left wondering what journey this psychodrama would take me on. The answer? A creepy, harrowing and hard-to-look-away kind of journey—that’s for sure.
This art film is exquisitely crafted, brimming with deadpan humour and brilliant portrayals of every character. At times raw, heart-wrenching emotion is displayed—particularly by Colin Farrell as he helplessly watches as his family is torn apart. The dialogue throughout is theatrically mundane—it’s as if the characters are in a trance state.
The soundtrack that accompanies this film is eerie and haunting to say the least. From classical music pieces by Schubert, to Raffey Cassidy’s ghostly rendition of Ellie Goulding’s ‘Burn’, which sent shivers.
It is loud and ominous, and suspense builds as the cameras creep and crawl through hospital corridors, and whenever Martin is present in a scene. This left the audience on edge throughout the entirety of the film, waiting for something that would cause a jump—waiting to be caught off guard around every turn.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer certainly isn’t for everyone, but Lanthimos undoubetdly exceeded expectations. It had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and was received well by many.
Feeling up to the challenge?
Prepare yourself to be a victim of the unsuspecting, and unsettled with every scene.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer opens in cinemas today.