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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