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[Fantastic Fest Review] ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ Will Be the Most Unsettling Film You See This Year

[Fantastic Fest Review] ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ Will Be the Most Unsettling Film You See This Year

If Darren Aronofsky’s superb mother! (our review) hadn’t just been released, it would be easy to say that Yorgos Lanthimos‘ (The Lobster, Dogtooth) latest film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, would be the most polarizing film of 2017. Just compare this review to our own Benedict Seal’s 1-skull review for the film out of Cannes to see how different our takes on it are. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is most certainly not a film for everyone (there were quite a few walkouts at my screening), but I loved all 120 of its excruciatingly unsettling minutes.

An adaptation of the Greek myth of Agamemnon (in which he kills a deer sacred to the goddess Artemis and is instructed to kill his daughter Iphigenia to appease her), The Killing of a Sacred Deer tells the tragic(omedic?) story of the Murphy Family. Patriarch Steven (Colin Farrell) is a cardiologist who is happily married to Anna (Nicole Kidman), an ophthalmologist.  Steven has been having secret meetings with teenage Martin (Barry Keoghan) every couple of days. As the film progresses, Martin weasels his way further and further into Steven’s life, going so far as to befriend with his 15-year-old daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) after Steven invites him to a family dinner. One morning, Steven’s son Bob (Sunny Suljic) wakes up one and is unable to move his legs. Martin informs Steven that the rest of his family will eventually lose the use of their legs before starving themselves and finally bleeding from their eyes as justice for Martin’s father (the sacred deer of the title) dying on Steven’s operating table two years prior. The only way to prevent this curse is to (bum bum BUUUUUUUUM) kill a member of his family.

For a film with such a serious premise, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is oddly funny. Not having seen any of Lanthimos’ previous films, I was shocked by the way he tells his story. He and co-writer Efthymis Filippou inject a healthy dose of macabre humor into the proceedings, the funniest of which are the abundance of scenes featuring the children dragging themselves around the house after they have lost the use of their legs. Is the humor intentional? Are we supposed to laugh when, armed with the knowledge that Steven may choose her as his sacrifice, Anna’s self-preservation kicks in and she casually mentions that killing one of the children is the most logical conclusion? I’m not sure, but I most certainly did.

Viewers may find themselves unsure of how to react in these situations, but that’s sort of the point. Lanthimos and Filippou seem determined to break as many taboos as they can with The Killing of a Sacred Deer, including but not limited to filicide and incest (the latter of which is due to an extremely uncomfortable father-son discussion between Steven and Bob). Pairing these scenes with the booming orchestral score makes these sequences even more jarring.

[Related] All Fantastic Fest 2017 News and Reviews

What’s baffling (and sort of brilliant) about the film is that Lanthimos doesn’t ever try to hide what is going on with this family, but he also doesn’t give any logical explanation as to how this is happening. It just…is. Martin lays out everything to Steven in a rushed matter-of-fact monologue (as if he’s a child confessing something to a parent) towards the end of the first act, removing any mystery from the proceedings. The remainder of the film is devoted to watching this family deal with a horrifying situation as Steven struggles to decide which of his loved ones he will sacrifice.

Lanthimos’ direction and Thimios Bakatakis’ cinematography give the film a surreal, otherworldly quality, but it’s the performances that sell it. All of the actors in the film are phenomenal. They submit to Lanthimos’ directing and give emotionless, idiosyncratic performances that many will find off-putting. You will frequently find yourself asking why these characters don’t care more about their predicament. There isn’t really a good answer to that question, but they are mesmerizing to watch. Farrell and Kidman, in their second team-up this year after Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, deliver their lines with a stilted coldness that sends chills up the spine. The younger actors are equally impressive, with Keoghan being the standout. He gives an eerie performance that you believe to be that of a psychopath before you realize he fits right in with the rest of the players. Alicia Silverstone even pops up for one madcap scene that will have you questioning why Hollywood doesn’t put her in more films.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer might make you laugh. It might make you angry. It will disturb you. It will scare you. You may hate it or you may love it, but one thing is for sure: you will want to talk about it the second the credits roll.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer had its North American premiere at Fantastic Fest and will receive a limited release from A24 on October 20, 2017.



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COMMENTS

33 Comments
  • Cheddar Hayes

    5 skulls, seriously? Was this the first movie you have ever seen? I saw this, it was terrible. About half the audience left before it was over. The other half stayed to boo.

  • DeadSnow07

    Trace! Where have you been? I’ll check this out due to your review.

    • Heyo! I got a promotion at my day job so my writing time is limited. I’ll still be covering Fantastic Fest and SXSW and writing the occasional article though. I won’t be gone any time soon!

  • Necro

    I have to admit for the amount of time that I’ve known of this film I’ve had absolutely zero interest in it whatsoever! That has officially changed as of this moment! My point is that was a great review Trace, really well said! I mean this film was fly shit to me for months, nothing I read or saw on it had no impact. I’ll check it out now. Keep up the good work!

    • Thank you! And I hope you like it. I’m fully aware you may walk out and feel betrayed by me, but I really, really loved this film.

      • Necro

        You’re welcome and no I don’t ever feel betrayed! Really the only way I’d feel betrayed is if someone absolutely guaranteed that I will like a film. Anybody with half a brain in their head knows you can’t guarantee someone else’s opinion. Like you said “I hope you like it”. Best way to put it. I’m a very open-minded enthusiast who can watch extreme gore one film and then the next go to a super slow burn film that is 100% psychological, and enjoy it all the same. I’ll let you know.

  • Nicolas Cage Jr.

    I’ve been wanting to see this film. It was shot in my hometown and my sister in law is an extra in it.

  • Loved the hell out of this film. One of the best of Fantastic Fest this year, and right up there or possibly even better than The Lobster.

    • Giwrgos

      I think it was even better than The Lobster. More intriquing with horror elements in it!

  • zombie84_41

    yo i cant wait to see this i love the fuck out of this director he makes truly disturbing films the lobster was one of the greatest films and dogtooth was about the same amazing. Didnt see the one he did after dogtooth

    • Necro

      Never seen ‘The Lobster’ is it really that good?

      • Matt Miller

        It’s one of those that you’ll love or you’ll hate kind of movies. You have to watch it and see if you sympathize with the style of the director. Personally I think is brilliant and the best film I watched last year. It’s weird, unique and smart but the style can be off puting to a lot of people.

        • Necro

          Understood and I know that some people with totally disagree with me, but I truly feel that way about Rob Zombie. I know it’s usually white trashy type people who all cuss like sailors and his wife absolutely has to play a significant/title role in all his films, but he does bring a unique style and vision. Especially when you exclude his ‘Halloween’ films in particular.

          • Matt Miller

            Rob Zombie is more of a hit or miss for me. I really like The Lords of Salem, is visually great and atmospheric and The house of a 1000 corpses is pretty fun. But I just can’t stand The devil’s rejects and 31. I haven’t seen his Halloween movies though, they’re in my list since forever.

          • Necro

            I honestly think personally that ‘Lords of Salem’ is his best effort on multiple levels. My favorite is ‘House of 1000 Corpses’ because that was a straight up Horror film no matter how you slice it, also it was his first film and I think a lot of artists ‘first’ anything is usually their best. It’s not to often I hear someone say they don’t like ‘The Devil’s Rejects’, usually that’s his most liked film. Now ’31’ was a little off to me as well, I have to watch it again to take it all in.

      • zombie84_41

        dude its amazing. Just go in and watch it dont read anything about it.

        • Necro

          The only thing I know about it is the title and who it’s directed by. Ok I’m definitely going to watch it.

          • zombie84_41

            Yeah its a good old mind fuck. Watch Dogtooth too his first movie.

        • Darren Kerr

          Dogtooth and The Lobster.
          What I liked about them both that characters take the most absurd situations for granted, as if it’s perfectly normal to do what they do.

          • zombie84_41

            Lol. Yeah esp in Dogtooth those characters were insane LOL.

          • Darren Kerr

            Only seen Dogtooth once, but I still remember it vividly.

          • zombie84_41

            me too 🙂 i gotta evenually get it on dvd

  • MaryMaria

    I’m so stoked for this, I loved the weirdness that was The Lobster.

  • DukeStKing

    Batman and Robin. That’s why no Alicia Silverstone in movies.

  • Jada Maes

    The Lobster was wonderfully weird. I’ll give this one a whirl

  • Barry El Beardo

    I see what you did there 😉

  • Barry El Beardo

    Please watch Dogtooth and The Lobster!

  • DukeStKing

    I see what you did there…

  • Matt Miller

    I’m incredibly excited for this movie and now I feel like I read a lot of spoilers, and I’m furious and excited because they are so fascinating. You have to watch the previous movies of the director if you enjoyed this. It’s the same brilliant combination of disturbing and comedic that you don’t know if you should laugh or feel disgusted and I love that.

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