REVIEW | “The Killing of a Sacred Deer" should've won the Palme d'Or at Cannes

FILM/TV | If you liked "The Lobster," you're going to love the latest from Lanthimos

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Walk into "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" knowing that this has been called the "scariest movie" for director Yorgos Lanthimos yet and you might be fearful, but only be with good measure.

For fans of Lanthimos's 2015 film "The Lobster," the idea of strange universes is nothing new — nor is seeing Colin Farrell navigating his way through them. Combining these odd terms in the world with complicated, strange relationships is another trademark of Lanthimos's past work. "Sacred Deer" begins before the terms of this story are set.

We meet Farrell's surgeon character on what seems to be an average day at work, seeing him finish up an open heart surgery and discussing the purchasing of a watch with a colleague. He then goes to visit a peculiar young man named Martin (Barry Keoghan), possibly a mentee, at a diner for a brief before heading home to his wife (one of Nicole Kidman's many Cannes roles this year) and children.


The absurdity takes off from here. We soon discover Martin is the son of a patient that was killed on the table during a surgery of Farrell's, hence the special attention Farrell gives him — presents, dinner with his family, etc. Farrell even goes as far as to attend dinner at Martin's home where he must dismiss advances from Martin's widowed mother (Alicia Silverstone in one brief, brilliant scene). Martin then threatens Farrell with a curse on his family. If he does not kill one member, they will all start to die in a slow, terrible progression. Immediately, Martin's predications begin.

Slowly, Farrell's children become paralyzed from the waist down and refuse to consume food, just as Martin said they would. The battle to fight off this horrible curse completely consumes Farrell and Kidman, doctors themselves who work tirelessly to try and remedy the situation. However no amount of science in the world is able to take on the power that is Martin, leaving Farrell to make a decision without the last few scenes of the film.


From beginning to end, the narrative is stunning in its delivery. Lanthimos notoriously tells his actors not to try and act. Whatever the case was here, each character leans into their strengths in their roles. The strongest player is clearly Keoghan's Martin, with his ability to quietly portray someone suffering from a condition that is well beyond a mental illness as we understand such, but something far more severe. The dark tenderness and absolute aloofness Keoghan brings to Martin makes him all the more haunting, adding to the previously spoken about "scariness" represented in the film.

Lanthimos's use of music throughout the film is spectacularly paired with his direction of the camera. From the first shot of an open heart surgery accompanied by loud, overpowering opera music, we understand the intensity of what is about to follow. The music returns throughout the film during the major turning points in the plot, such as when the illness begins to onset on the Farrell's young son (Sunny Suljic) and when he is ultimately the member of the family to be sacrificed.


The film somehow also manages to find humor in the severity of the situations at hand. The jilted dialogue between family members and Martin is so false and forced it's hard not to laugh. Similarly, Silverstone's passes at Farrell when he joins her for dinner are absurd and comic ("You're not leaving until you try my tart!" will be a pick-up line for the ages). Even after the symptoms of the curse have started to sink in, jokes can be made. One scene involves the sickly children debating which of them their father will kill, the daughter (Raffey Cassidy) having fallen in love with Martin and claiming she will run away with him to fix the mess while the son believing his parents purchase of a new piano for him guarantees his safety. These scenes give the story room to breathe and experience the narrative in the same way we experience a crisis in day-to-day life, which is perhaps why the audience never becomes too overwhelmed.

Because of the film's overall ability to convey a wide arrange of emotions across its duration, its outstanding attention to detail both visually and audibly, and its compelling narrative that will engage viewers in an odd, daring concept from start to finish, "Sacred Deer" was, by far, the most well produced body of work I experienced at Cannes. When it arrives stateside in November, you should experience it, too.

A complete list of films in competition for the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the Palme d'Or, is available on the festival's website, as is a press conference with the team behind "The Killing of a Sacred Deer."

Rachel A.G. Gilman is a writer, a radio producer, and probably the girl wearing the Kinks shirt. Follow her on Twitter.


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