By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

Cannes Review: KILLING OF A SACRED DEER

SACRED DEER

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is Yorgos Lanthimos’ grandest achievement yet, a huge film in so many ways. But that vastness coud prove insurmountable by those turned off by the bite of Dogtooth or snap of The Lobster.

For those who embraced those beasts with bloodied arms, this A24 film is also the most accessible film by Lanthimos and his regular co-writer Efthymis Filippou. Squeamish be damned: his follow-up Competition bow begins with a clinical close-up of open-heart surgery and ends with, well… just the opposite, really (if I can be vague enough as to imply what a heartbreaking Lanthimos ending can look like).

This theme of hearts—loved ones, the idea that family ties are quantifiable—is what Sacred Deer canters satirically on throughout its 109 minutes. The plot, while easily summarized, is characteristically mysterious: after a death on his operating table, the children of cardiologist Steven (Colin Farrell) begin to experience inexplicable illnesses, beginning with paralysis and leading to loss of appetite.

Baffling his medical colleagues as they run studies, the curse that’s getting worse seems to be stemming from Martin (Barry Keoghan), the strange, teenaged son of Steven’s late patient, who Steven had befriended following the funeral as a sign of humanity.

But, as we know, humanity is exactly what’s on the chopping block in a Yorgos Lanthimos film. And like Dogtooth, this examination of the human family unit is conveyed like an experiment by scientists from another world: these are people, here are their biological functions, and here is how you unravel (read: fuck with) their self-imposed morals.

That The Killing of a Sacred Deer feels so distinctly alien is not unintentional. Take, for instance, Martin’s intentionally Pinocchio levels of wooden dialogue—off at first, incredibly unsettling soon after. The film, through its entirety, is captured via camera angles demanding squinting and neck-craning—if the camera is moving, it’s often above, below, or far away from its subjects. Its Under the Skin-esque thrums of unsettling instrumentals sound like transmissions from deepest space.

Perhaps an extraterrestrial reading explains the mystery behind its premise—but if we take this at face value, it’s a film of psychological detachment. At the very least, Steven and his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) will need to be equally detached to gain closure from this ordeal.

It’s an awfully brutal comedy, and an ultimately successful one: by asking his audience to prepare for a fatal solution to a family’s foregone conclusion, Lanthimos gets away with murder. Though if you’ve studied the canon of psychological horror films the director clearly invokes in this playful nightmare, you already knew that such a thing was possible.

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“With any character, the way I think about it is, you have the role on the page, you have the vision of the director and you have your life experience… I thought it was one of the foundations of the role for John Wick. I love his grief. For the character and in life, it’s about the love of the person you’re grieving for, and any time you can keep company with that fire, it is warm. I absolutely relate to that, and I don’t think you ever work through it. Grief and loss, those are things that don’t ever go away. They stay with you.”
~ Keanu Reeves

“I was checking through stuff the other day for technical reasons. I came across The Duellists on Netflix and I was absolutely stunned to see that it was exquisitely graded. So, while I rarely look up my old stuff, I stopped to give it ten minutes. Bugger me, I was there for two hours. I was really fucking pleased with what it was and how the engine still worked within the equation and that engine was the insanity and stupidity of war. War between two men, in that case, who fight on thought they both eventually can’t remember the reason why. It was great, yeah. The great thing about these platforms now is that, one way or another, they’ll seek out and then put out the best possible form and the long form. Frequently, films get cut down because of that curse in which the studio felt or feels that they have to preview. And there’s nothing worse than a preview to diminish the original intent.Oh, yeah, how about every fucking time? And I’ve stewed about films later even more because when you tell the same joke 20 times the joke’s no longer funny. When you tell a bad joke once or twice? It’s fine. But come on, now. Here’s the key on the way I feel when I approach the movie: I try to keep myself as withdrawn from the project as possible once I’ve filmed it. And – this is all key on this – then getting a really excellent editor so I never have to sit in on editing. What happens if you sit in is you become stale and every passage or joke, metaphorically speaking, gets more and more tired. You start cutting it all back because of fatigue. So what you have to do is keep your distance and therefore, in a funny kind of way, you, as the director, should be the preview and that’s it.”
~ Sir Ridley Scott