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Review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer

November 3, 2017

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a celebrated cardiac surgeon who strikes up a strange and unlikely friendship with an offbeat teen named Martin (Barry Keoghan) in The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

When Steven brings the troubled teen home to meet his wife (Nicole Kidman), as well as his teenaged daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and his young son Bob (Sunny Suljic), Martin tries to position himself as part of the family, which causes things to start going horribly wrong for them.

The latest from director Yorgos Lanthimos, following up his offbeat relationship dramedy The LobsterThe Killing of a Sacred Deer is a slow burn psychological thriller that does a great job of keeping us on edge.  The film only reveals the true nature of Steven and Martin’s strangely paternal friendship about halfway through, and I wouldn’t think of spoiling it here, but it takes things into the level of a Greek tragedy.

The film moves at a deliberate pace that maintains a steady sense of suspense, playing with a chilly and unnerving atmosphere that keeps us constantly intrigued, while punctuating the unease with ample moments of dark humour.  The cinematography gives it an appropriately cold and chilly feel, as the camera slowly pans in and out between scenes, allowing many moments to feel like inverses of each other, and adding to the unnerving effect of it all.

The performances are all perfectly mannered, with every actor delivering the unique rhythms of the often bizarre dialogue with a certain calmness.  Colin Farrell brings an exceptionally dry humour to many of his line readings, and Barry Keoghan is a particular standout, delivering a quietly unsettling and absurdly funny performance that brilliantly gets under our skin.  These characters exist in their own entirely unique world, but they treat it as if it is mundane and ordinary, which just makes the film all the more unnerving and transfixing to watch, as it barrels towards a terrifying climax.

A version of this review was originally published during the Toronto International Film Festival.

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