If you ever get invited to a Cannes beach party, never play “Would You Rather… ?” with Yorgos Lanthimos. The Greek writer-director has a perverse mind quite unlike anyone else working today, with previous highlights Dogtooth and The Lobster offering twisted alternate realities like a family living in exclusion from society, and a world where single people turn into animals.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer presents possibly his most mundane and chilling scenario yet, placing an impossible moral choice upon the shoulders of the Surgeon (Farrell). A little air leaves the room when this conundrum is revealed, but the setup before is slow-going. Lanthimos’ style can be hard to love sometimes: the clinical, emotionless delivery he demands from his actors flattens the energy of the film, and creates a distance from the traumatic actions on-screen.
This flat, sincere tone does provide a lot of bleak, dark comedy as well, with Lanthimos’ off-kilter world turning the most commonplace of conversations – about say, making lemonade – into hilarious one-liners. By deconstructing language and behaviour, Lanthimos reduces us to our base instincts and creates an horrific, uncanny version of life as we know it.
Kidman is the star of the show as the Surgeon’s Wife, adapting to Lanthimos’ precise style while retaining a flicker of personality. She’s the only one who betrays that there is a style at play, and that Sacred Deer’s tone is constructed. Arguably that’s a failure to conform, but it makes her the most interesting thing about the film.
The final half-hour is thrilling black comedy, but what precedes it is too much like hard work. No one should expect cinema to be chewed up into easily digestible chunks, but nor should something so willfully obtuse automatically be praised as anything other than a brave experiment.
CAST: Nicole Kidman, Alicia Silverstone, Colin Farrell
DIRECTOR: Yorgos Lanthimos
WRITERS: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou
SYNOPSIS: A teenager’s attempts to bring a brilliant surgeon into his dysfunctional family takes an unexpected turn.