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.