Verge Reviews: The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

Colin Farrell reunites once again with Director Yorgos Lanthinos in his latest psychological thriller, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer.

Following on from the commercial and critical success of their first collaboration, The Lobster, Farrell and Lanthinos have once again produced an exceptionally unique and hard-hitting film. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, stars Colin Farrell as Steven, a renowned cardiovascular surgeon and Anna (Nicole Kidman), a respected ophthalmologist who are quite happily plodding through life in their immaculately presented house, enjoying their lively social life and looking after their two children Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic). When Steven takes a young, fatherless teenager Martin (Barry Keoghan) under his wing, offering him advice and support and gives him the opportunity to meet his family, things start to take a more sinister turn. As Steven becomes more and more concerned about the level of help that Martin requires, Martin puts their idyllic lifestyle and surroundings into jeopardy and chaos as Steven and Anna are forced to take drastic actions and make an unthinkable sacrifice.

It’s safe to say that judging by that plot, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is as intense as it sounds. Lanthinos certainly has a way of making you feel uneasy and uncomfortable. When a film opens with a black screen to a chorus of strings before cutting immediately into a close up of a beating heart during heart surgery, you know that you’re in for a fairly intense time. The close ups that Lanthinos uses also expertly builds the tension. The intensity of the scenes between Keoghan, Kidman and Farrell is a result of these close up shots and as the audience, you’re sucked in, constantly trying to understand the ever-changing situations or second guess Martin’s next move and at times it’s spell-binding. Adding to the levels of intensity is intensity is the fantastic music score. As I mentioned before, the film opens with a heavy string accompaniment and continues to jolt you throughout the rest of the film, building the tension and adding to the horror perfectly. There are so many examples of this accompaniment working but the stand out example is a wonderful moment where Bob and Anna are walking back through the hospital when Bob’s legs give in. The strings work perfectly with the overhead camera angle, creating an incredibly tense thirty seconds or so as we suddenly see Bob helplessly hitting the floor.

But for all the tension building and intensity of the film, there’s also some very funny moments as well. This shouldn’t be a surprise given Farrell’s comedic skills and undoubtable charm still shining through even with his enormous beard. The black and white views and thoughts of Steve, Martin and to some extent Anna are an obvious source of comedy and add some much needed light-heartedness to a very dark film. I imagine daughters everywhere will cringe when Steve starts talking about Kim’s first menstrual cycle! Within the first two minutes you can clearly see how regimented Steve’s mind is, informing his co-worker Matthew (Bill Camp) about his water-resistant watch and the importance of the watch strap material, one of many matter-of-fact, boring but also awkwardly funny conversations that Steve is involved in.

For all their comedic chemistry, the Kidman and Farrell both give excellent performances as Anna and Steve and both portray their character’s flaws openly and honesty. Kidman’s Anna is a strict mother and snappy, annoying wife but wonderfully confident in social situations and Farrell’s performance of Steve is very enjoyable for his naivety and bluntness particularly. Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Sulijic also give good performances as Kim and Bob with Cassidy in particular absolutely nailing Kim’s teenage know-it-all attitude. But the real stand out performance is Barry Keoghan’s portrayal of Martin. He is totally compelling in an understated and almost aloof way. His performance has the perfect balance between being completely sinister and evil but also strangely loveable. I always feel that with any believable portrayal of a villain, you have to empathise with them. You have to truly understand their motives and you absolutely do with Keoghan’s Martin, it’s an outstanding performance and at just twenty-five, you could easily see him as future Bond villain, if not 007 himself.

So despite the performances and enthralling moments in the film, there were a few things that I felt weren’t up to scratch. For me, and I stress this could just be, I felt there were a couple of loose ends thats didn’t quite add up. It’s difficult to go into huge detail about without giving away what happens but I felt there was quite a bit of guess work involved in terms of how the family starts to fall apart and for me, when a film doesn’t make something as necessary as this absolutely crystal clear then it’s not done it’s job in telling the whole story. Also, theres an issue that crops up occasionally in Steve’s storyline. It’s not giving too much away by saying he used to be an alcoholic, but I feel that this theme and backstory wasn’t explored enough at all. At no point is Steve desperate for a drink when his family starts to fall apart, nor are there any close up shots of Farrell intensely staring at bottle of whisky or any real indication that he had a drinking problem, and so when it’s brought up it feels more like a fairly weak attempt at covering up all of Steve’s previous mishaps and issues. Again, given how much an important role this theme plays in the whole plot, it doesn’t really carry the same weight or importance that the story requires.

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is certainly more hot than cold. At times, you’ll be utterly absorbed and hooked and at others, you’ll find yourself slightly lost or laughing and wondering ‘what the hell is going?’. For me, I loved the intensity, the pace, the performances and the dark humour but I felt it slightly lost it’s way towards the end. There are too many vague and thinly explained possibilities and loose ends that in my opinion took the gloss away from what was an incredibly moving and intense film.

Rating: 4/5
The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is released in the UK on Friday 3rd November by Curzon Artificial Eye and in Ireland by Element Pictures.