London Film Festival Review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Director Yorgos Lanthimos is one of Hollywood’s finest when it comes to writing off the cuff stories that intertwine darkness and comedy perfectly, with 2015’s The Lobster being a cracking example of this. His follow up to The Lobster comes in the form of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, a dark horror that proves to be as unsettling as it is hilarious.

Unique, unnerving and utterly brilliant

If you go into it this film after seeing the trailer assuming it to be an entirely creepy, hard to watch horror, then you’d have assumed wrong. Whilst this would seem mostly the case when a heart surgeon named Steven befriends a young man named Martin who happens to be the son of an ex-patient; then suddenly his children become paralysed and very ill when he enters their lives, Lanthimos has written easily one of the funniest and most original scripts in recent memory that should deservedly earn him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The cringeworthy, blunt and unapologetic dialogue draws a considerable amount of laughs throughout and despite the film’s overwhelming theme of darkness and some truly unsettling scenes, the laughs are constant and the humour sublime.

Whilst there’s visually not a huge amount to shout about despite some gorgeous close ups at times, where the film really thrives is with its incredible sound. The score is haunting and proves itself a perfect catalyst for creating the suspense and horror that Lanthimos has clearly tried to capture. Equally, the sound mixing and editing is extremely well done, especially when looking into places from the outside, with the realistic, absolute silence leading the viewer to constantly speculate on what’s happening and this aspect truly keeps you on the edge of your seat. Stylistically it’s very similar to Lanthimos’s previous films and the story has the same hilarious humour he so relishes, yet it’s truly his darkest film yet and one that leaves the viewer truly unsettled.

Haunting and hilarious performances

Colin Farrell has certainly had a huge renaissance in his career since the brilliant In Bruges, and his second collaboration with Lanthimos is another in a fine streak of performances from the Irish actor. As the heart surgeon Steven so plagued by Martin’s impact on his family, Farrell brings a great diversity to his performance, but it is with his comedic talents that he really shines. He’s entirely to the point, brutally awkward and delivers the script perfectly, rounding out one of the finest comedy performances of the year for sure; that could also put him in the mix for a potential second Golden Globe. Nicole Kidman graces the screen in a typically assured performance as Steven’s wife Anna, rolling together anger, bitterness and vulnerability to give an affecting performance despite not really being the prominent figure at any time, a testament to her talents.

The finest performance in this film however comes from young Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk), who honestly gives one of the finest horror performances since Anthony Perkins in Psycho. As the weird mummy’s boy Martin whom Steven befriends, Keoghan commands the screen at every given moment. Whilst initially awkward, funny and very likeable, his deadly intentions soon become clear and all the nuances that made him likeable become a completely different story, and he suddenly morphs into one of the creepiest, most memorable characters in recent memory. There are times when Martin is so astoundingly freaky that it makes your skin crawl, and it just establishes Keoghan as a true star in the making, clearly hugely talented and potentially a deserving Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actor. It’s a film riddled with wonderful and disparate performances, but it’s Keoghan’s assured turn as Martin that makes it truly memorable.

The Verdict

Whilst it’s not possible to give The Killing of a Sacred Deer a perfect score due to not having wholly perfect technical aspects, it’s still a brilliant film that has a hilarious, dark and well rounded story. It thrives on its expert sound and solid performances from its stars, with Barry Keoghan’s turn as Martin being truly memorable and undeniably star making. Lanthimos has delivered a fantastic follow up to The Lobster that will undoubtedly have some impact on this awards season.

Rating: 9/10

Words by Elliott Jones

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