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[Cannes Review] ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ is an Epic Embarrassment

[Cannes Review] ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ is an Epic Embarrassment

I wasn’t much of a fan of Yorgos Lanthimos‘ last feature, the bizarre indie hit The Lobster, but The Killing of a Sacred Dear is a step too far. His latest doubles down on his annoying ticks and lacks the intriguingly off-the-wall premise of that ‘fall in love, or risk being turned into an animal’ modern romance satire.

Collin Farrell plays Steven, a doctor who has a bizarre “friendship” with 16-year-old Martin (Barry Keoghan). And, as Martin creeps further into Steven and his family’s lives, a sinister curse is revealed that will require Steven to make the ultimate sacrifice.

There are shades of The Gift and The Witch in the film’s exploration of a sinister force, both very real (The Gift) and supernatural (The Witch), invading family life. But Lanthimos’ film has none of the escalating intrigue and tension of those impressive recent films. Once we learn of the curse, any ambiguity is lost. We know exactly what will happen and the film proceeds to play out mechanically.

The film’s visuals, while striking at times, become monotonous and garish. Lanthimos uses wide angle lenses placed in the upper corners of rooms to provide a distorted perspective on the unfolding events. Think Terry Gillian’s Brazil, but far less intelligently used. By employing these shots in virtually every scene, they lose any discombobulating power they once had.

Not that filmmakers shouldn’t play with form, but conventions exist for a reason: they are usually the most efficient way of telling a story. Lanthimos avoids traditional over the shoulder shots, with his dialogue scenes instead playing out in these wide shots, which does absolutely nothing to enhance the performances.

And the cast is talented. Farrell can be wonderful when delivering raw humor through a straight face. It worked for the most part in The Lobster, but he has nothing to do here. No emotions to express, just an impressive beard to hide behind. Nicole Kidman is also wasted as Steven’s wife and the two kids are decent but it’s impossible to shine with this material.

Keoghan stands out the most. Speaking of The Gift, he has something of a young Joel Edgerton about him. His handsome, but almost brutish, features suggest a man misplaced and volatile, as if he could hide the world’s horrors beneath his stony exterior. He shows real promise, and who knows what a director with real skill could get out of this guy.

The horror does arrive but it’s emotionless. Our genre gets slated for cold, sadistic death and despair, but this is as glaring a culprit as I’ve seen in a while. The film’s stakes, on paper at least, should be huge, but I felt absolutely nothing.

Lanthimos’ stunted dialogue, which didn’t work for me in The Lobster, is downright grating here. Characters speak as if their lines have been Google translated. It’s alienating and tiresome. As is the score, which is assembled from a variety of pre-existing compositions and plays like a runt sibling of Mica Levi’s beguiling work on Under the Skin, with its strained strings and aggressive thwangs and clangs: bizarrely, the two films share a supervising sound editor.

The film draws from Greek mythology: with the title a reference to the myth of Iphigenia. I also picked up on Freudian sexual perversions and Oedipal undercurrents. But, while my knowledge of Greek mythology is minimal, it seems to me that Lanthimos just threw together a bunch of elements and idiosyncrasies from these classical tales and scattered them throughout his script. It never feels cohesive and I can only imagine it will alienate most audiences, rather than impressing or challenging them.

If you were a real fan of The Lobster, then maybe this scattershot film will work for you. But I was not amused. The Killing of a Sacred Dear is an insult to a talented cast and the biggest bum note yet from one of the most overrated directors in the art-house world.



  • Biscoito18

    Damn, I kinda want to watch it now. I wish I could see how many skulls you would’ve given.

    • I hope you like it more than I did! I would have given it 1 skull. I haven’t had as strong a reaction against a film in a while.

  • Munchie

    Sounds like maybe you’re the wrong guy to give an impartial review to this film.

    • I didn’t much care for The Lobster, but I certainly didn’t hate it. And I went into this with an open mind, but it just did not work for me.

  • Garbageface

    Reviewer, have you seen Dogtooth?

    • James

      After dogtooth I’ll watch anything this man makes.

      • Garbageface


    • I haven’t, but I have heard great things. Maybe that would be the one to win me over to Lanthimos. I just wish he’d move away from this Lobster phase…

  • vmackey

    By the way guys. Why did you stop the skull rating? As a long time reader (since 2005), I honestly only saw you took decisions after decision that only downgraded the quality of the site, turning it bland like any other movie site. Replacing the pagination by a “more posts” (great when you’re trying to reach the 17th page of your articles), removing the ratings, removing the movie pit, removing BDTV, removing the search by actor/dorector, removing the user reviews section, and so many other things. (gosh i miss the 2005-2010 era of BD) I assume these must be economical decision and also to attract more mainstream readers (yeah, the new design is really lacking compared to the good ol’ skull-circular saw one). And considering your current alexa rank, it must work. But really, at the end of the day, the quality of the site is falling hard. It’s not really about nostalgia. It’s just that changes are supposed to improve a product, not make it shittier (pardon my language).

    • Smith Mitchellman

      BD was so great back in 2002 when they actually had to try. And humble Disgusting was a God compared to “Brad.”

  • Benedict, you’re simply too simple and too American for these kind of movies. Go away.

    • MC Carmichael

      I agree, I looked up his other reviews and found a negative one of Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper.. a truly great film. This website should stick to what it knows best: generic (straight-to-VOD) jump-scare horror films.

  • Cody

    What can you say about Alicia Silverstone in it without giving anything away?

    • She’s only in it very briefly, but she’s good!

  • zombie84_41

    BTW this is written sounds like a movie I will truly love or hate. The Lobster was a mind fuck of movie, it got weirder and weirder till the very end fantastic film. Is this new film consider along the lines of the Cure For Wellness ?

  • Matt Miller

    Anyway this is the movie I’m more excited to watch this year. The lobster was brilliant and is great that this director is making something closer to a horror movie now.

  • Smith Mitchellman

    You’d have a better chance of getting it back if you said how much you hated it and to never bring it back.

    • thegreatiandi

      Damn you…I think you’re right lol

  • Evan3

    Am I wrong or wasn’t the Lobster nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar? If so, your comment on his scripting abilities would seem to be heavily contested.

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