In his previous films like Dogtooth or The Lobster, writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos has always flirted with tipping over into horror territory. His films play as bleakly comedic fables, ones that always unnerve and tend follow a certain nightmare logic. In The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, Lanthimos finally tips over the edge and delivers as close to a horror movie or thriller as he’s ever likely to make. It’s a film designed to disturb and one that’s almost impossible to shake.
Colin Farrell stars as a successful surgeon and reluctant family man who regularly meets with a mysterious teenager (Barry Keoghan) for mysterious reasons. At first it’s not clear why, even when the kid has dinner with Farrell’s wife (Nicole Kidman) and two children. Soon it’s revealed that Farrell may have had an accidental hand in the boy’s death and worse, the mysterious young creeper seems to have put a curse on the doctor’s family that will ensure their deaths unless Farrell murders one with his own hands. In other words, not a friendly choice and one that Lanthimos milks for all it’s unsettling and symbolic potential.
On one level, the film is a masterclass of suspense, with Lanthimos establishing woozy tension from the first scene and somehow ramping it up continuously. On another level, the movie is playfully comedic, toying with its premise and characters as the filmmaker pushes towards deadpan surrealism and satire (the actors never outright play for laughs, but frequently get ‘em anyways). Yet somehow in Lanthimos’ hands that makes the movie even more unnerving and uncanny, pushing viewers in uncomfortable places for nervous giggles and leaving them wilfully off balance. It makes for riveting and devastating viewing broken up only by laughs that stick in the throat.
The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is undoubtedly Lanthimos’ simplest and most “commercial” movie, so some snooty types might scoff it off. However with this filmmaker, even when he’s playing light the results are scarring and thought provoking. If David Lynch truly is retired now that Twin Peaks is done, Lanthimos could be his heir. The world needs pop art surrealist nightmares and this guy fits the bill just fine.