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THE KILLING OF SACRED DEER is Another Demented Comedy from THE LOBSTER Director (TIFF Review)

Part supernatural thriller, part social satire, and entirely demented, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is the latest and greatest film in the taboo-busting career of writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos. The Greek filmmaker first made a splash with 2009’s Dogtooth, about a trio of siblings perverted by being raised in captivity by their overbearing father. Last year, Hollywood finally noticed him. The Lobster, a dystopian satire depicting a world in which unmarried adults are turned into the animal of their choosing, attracted stars Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, and earned Lanthimos an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

In case you were worried that a taste of mainstream success would dilute Lanthimos’ peculiar sensibilities, The Killing of a Sacred Deer will put all fears to rest. Thrilling in its ability to bend social boundaries without breaking them, Lanthimos once again employs significant star power and his brilliantly sardonic mind to create a fascinating, controversial film sure to delight and revolt audiences in equal measure.

Farrell is back as Dr. Steven Murphy, a cardiologist whose bucolic bourgeois life with his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and two children, Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic), is disrupted by the presence of an odd teenage boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan). When we first see Steven and Martin, they are behaving like a father and son, or perhaps mentor and protégé: taking strolls down the river, exchanging gifts, offering advice. Their relationships seems oddly stilted, but that’s hardly uncommon among fathers and sons in film.

Soon, we learn the disturbing truth: Martin is the only one who knows Steven’s big, bad secret. Steven operated on Martin’s father. Something went wrong, and Martin’s father died. Martin believes that Steven killed his father through negligence, and Steven doesn’t disagree, so he allows the strange boy to infiltrate his life, demanding Steven’s presence at odd times and worming his way into the doctor’s domestic life. He even tries to set him up with his widow mother (Alicia Silverstone), ignoring the fact that the good doctor is already happily married.

To say much more would be to spoil the bizarre, metaphysical twists that lie ahead, but things only get more complicated from there. With a clownish face and robotic delivery, Keoghan’s (whom you might remember from Dunkirk) deadpan performance, when combined with the dissonant, wounding musical score, drags Killing kicking and screaming into the horror genre.

But to place the film within the confines of a single genre would be an injustice. Besides the horror and suspense, there are also moments of perfect absurdist comedy, as Steven and Anna deal with their increasingly alarming situation as if it is nothing more than an invasive pest. They are husband and wife, after all, and Lanthimos’ script brilliantly treats their crisis as a simple domestic situation, just another problem to be solved in the complicated institution of marriage.

This tension between internal chaos and placidity of suburban life results in a viewing experience that will be agonizing to some and delightful to others. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a tragedy within a tragedy, but its absurdity reaches comic levels. You’ll laugh, and then hate yourself for laughing. Ultimately, it is like a cinematic adaptation of a grade-school bully that hits you in the head with your own fist, then asks you why you’re hitting yourself. It’s painful to the subject of the joke, but from the outside it’s pretty goddamn hilarious.

Rating: 4 Delicious, Poisonous Burritos out of 5




Images: A24

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