Unpicking The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a tricky proposition. The film is so singular, so committed to a very specific style that to begin to delve into it almost feels like you are spoiling the broth for others about to take it. All you really need to know is that the film is very much in keeping with the style and tone of director Yorgos Lanthimos' previous films The Lobster (though it isn't as funny as that) and Dogtooth, and it is one of the singularly most tense cinematic experiences I have had.
If you are still reading I shall unpick the film some more. The narrative focuses on Dr Murphy, a talented surgeon with a loving wife and two outstanding children. His perfect life has one strange addition, which is a teenage boy, Martin, with whom he has struck up a sort of friendship. The impact of this friendship begins to tear apart his perfect setup, but not in the way you might expect.
I am being purposefully vague. The film feels like an expertly crafted mystery box, with each creative choice taken to enhance the desired outcome. I knew little going in beyond the director's previous work and what little can be gleaned from the trailers. The Killing of a Sacred Deer might be Lanthimos' most interesting film to date, but it requires the audience to accept his directorial style. For some the film may be too slow, too mysterious. This is horror that relies entirely on atmosphere, with no jump scares needed. And jinkies, it is terrifying.
The viewing experience is enhanced by a cast that completely commits to the nature of the film. Colin Farrell is an alumnus of Lanthimos, having previously starred in The Lobster, and he is magnificent here, his career-shift from blockbusters reaping yet more benefits. Nicole Kidman, as the loyal wife, is having a career renaissance of her own and is probably the best she has been for some time here, her icy disposition perfect for this film. But the particular standout is Barry Keoghan (
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a tense, esoteric masterwork, held together by great performances. I spent two hours with chest tightening in horror at what takes place. Far from an easy watch, the film is still fascinating and intriguingly unique. Although one I am unlikely to watch again in a hurry.
This is a London Film Festival preview and The Killing of a Sacred Deer will be released on Friday 3rd November.