Cannes review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

In The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Yorgos Lanthimos creates a disturbingly strange and brutal dilemma.


by Alexa Dalby

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

You know that something strange is about to happen because director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) shoots with a fish-eye-lens effect that makes the mundane look skewed and menacing. Tracking shots pull back briskly and disorientingly as characters walk along bright Cincinnati hospital corridors making seemingly banal conversation. The sense of dread is enhanced by a strident, jagged string accompaniment, or, setting the tone in the first shot, mournfully oppressive operatic music – Schubert’s Stabat Mater – over scenes of pulsing open-heart surgery.

At first, there’s no explanation of the awkward relationship between bearded heart surgeon Steven (Colin Farrell) and 16-year-old boy Martin (Barry Keoghan) as they meet in a diner. Their conversation is formal and stilted, and Steven gives the boy an expensive gift. Steven invites Martin to meet his family in their lovely home and it’s a prelude to his infiltrating into their lives. Nicole Kidman is perfect as Steven’s ophthalmologist wife, icy and accommodating to his bizarre sexual preferences. With 14-year-old daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and young son Bob (Sunny Suljic), their family dinners are a model of politeness. With them, Martin’s behaviour is correct yet with an underlying steely menace and eventually the reason is revealed. He seeks atonement from Steven, who he blames for the death of his father in surgery and he demands a terrible recompense in return – “to balance”, as he says. He even instigates a seduction by his mother (a cameo from Alicia Silverstone). At first Steven is in denial, but when it seems that things are happening as Martin threatened, he and his wife turn to desperate measures, culminating in bizarre violence and wrenching final scenes.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is inspired by Greek mythology – Agamemnon invoked the anger of the goddess Artemis by killing a sacred deer and she demanded the sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia in return. This film is a gripping, challenging psychological horror, shot in Lanthimos’s unique style, and not to be missed.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer was joint winner of Best Screenplay at the 70th Cannes Film Festival 2017.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is now showing in the Official Selection at the 70th Cannes Film Festival.

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