Yorgos Lanthimos has a very strange way of seeing the world and he doesn’t seem overly concerned with whether or not you share it, which is really exactly how a movie director should be. You’d never confuse his films for anyone else’s, nor suggest he was retreading familiar ground. That singular vision, though, does mean he is not for everyone.
Lanthimos’ last film, the Oscar-nominated The Lobster, began with a silly, funny first half about unmarried people being turned into animals so as not to upset the rest of the population with their disgusting singleness, then became a much darker, inscrutable meditation on love. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is much more like that second half, without the light relief of the first. It holds together well, but if you found The Lobster trying then this might bore you rigid.
Colin Farrell plays Steven Murphy, a surgeon who leads an unstimulating life with his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their two children (Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic). A kid called Martin (a very creepy Barry Keoghan) looms into Steven’s life, seemingly keen for him to become a father figure. Initially, Steven is sympathetic but then cools. Martin, peeved, tells Steven that his entire family will die unless Steven chooses to kill one of them. It’s quickly obvious Martin isn’t lying.
It’s a classic horror set-up, but Lanthimos’ treatment of it is not horror-y, although it’s extremely chilling. It watches everyone from a distance, rather than looking to get under their skin; his characters never get worked up, even as the events of their lives becoming increasingly mad; most lines are delivered with deliberate detachment. It makes it simultaneously uninvolving – it’s hard to invest in characters who show little emotion – and nightmarish.
Lanthimos never bothers to explain how Martin has cursed on the family, which is either infuriating or scary, depending on your view. It’s a film you could well love and hate at the same time, which makes it quite annoying to watch, but also oddly riveting.