(originally published Jan 05, 2018)
SPOILER WARNING: No spoilers, but I discuss the second half of the film a little bit, so proceed with caution.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is another fascinating piece of auteur cinema from Yorgos Lanthimos. While it stumbles a bit in the back end, the film shows him at his idiosyncratic best, spinning a yarn that is every bit as fucked up and subversive as everything else I've seen of his.
The film is centered on a successful neurosurgeon (Steven) and his family, whose lives are thrown out of whack when his relationship with a teenage boy named Martin takes a strange turn. The specifics of their relationship are not at all what you'd expect, and I hesitate to even talk about them here in the spoiler space because doing so would rob you of the experience. Part of the joy of watching this film was seeing how information was slowly doled out to us, as more layers of Steven's character and his relationship with Martin are revealed.
Part of my issue with the second half is that this steady drip of character revelation comes to a stop, and the momentum slows as a result. It's like he spends the first hour setting up the house of cards, and then spends the next hour delicately blowing it over. When there's nothing left to build, all that's left to do is watch. It may work for some, but I found myself bored at times, waiting for certain inevitable things to happen.
Saving this film from its narrative shortfalls are its more tangible elements. Colin Farrell reunites with Lanthimos after 2015's excellent The Lobster, and gives another wondrously weird performance. Nicole Kidman delivers as always, injecting some warmth into an otherwise icy film, but the real stunner is Barry Keoghan's haunting turn as Martin. The score is menacing and operatic, perfectly befitting the bizarre mood that hangs over everything.
Most notable for me are the visuals, which are as Kubrick-ian as anything I've ever seen, feeling at times like a cinematographic successor to The Shining. There's a surgical precision to practically every shot in the film that sucks you in and tightens its grip on you. Lanthimos has always been a tremendous aestheticist, but he really steps it up here.
Love it or hate it, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is definitely a film that's worth your time. There's nobody else on the planet making films like Yorgos Lanthimos, and if you're a fan of his prior output, you should feel right at home here, or as "at home" as you can feel in the completely alien universe that he directs his films in.