Over the next few weeks, our writer in Melbourne, Sean W. Fallon, will be covering the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) and reviewing some of his favourite movies from the festival.
Overview: A teenager’s obsession with a cardiologist leads to a mysterious illness and a terrible decision. A24; 2017; Rated-R; 109 mins
Genre: Yorgos Lanthimos, more than any other writer/director working today, makes me want to be a better writer. When I watch his stuff it shows me exactly what happens when a boatload of confidence meets an abundance of creativity, and how genre is just something we use to sort movies into groups on Netflix. 2015’s The Lobster is, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, one of the best movies ever made, and one that people struggled with in terms of its genre and how to take it. For some, it was a horror movie, for others a comedy. With The Killing of a Sacred Deer, that sort of genre bending is less present as, even though the movie is both laugh out loud funny and stomach churningly horrific, it is very much a horror movie in the vein of The Shining and The Exorcist, in which normal people find themselves facing an unexplainable terror in their home.
Characters: As in The Lobster, the characters in Sacred Deer talk in that strange affected way in which each sentence goes on for too long and they talk about oddly meaningless things in a deadpan, serious way. With Colin Farrell, Lanthimos has found his muse and no other actor seems to be able to get as many laughs as Farrell does from single lines that, out of context, would be meaningless but in the movie serve as off the cuff punchlines. Nicole Kidman is, obviously, wonderful in this movie as Farrell’s wife and the mother of their children. She alternates between warm and ice cold with such skill that once the movie requires her to switch off and become a being of pure pragmatism it is eerie how well she sits in the role. There is a late scene in which she stares at Farrell with such unblinking intensity you expect smoke to start rising from his hair before he bursts into flames.
The real revelation for me though lies in the three younger actors. Irish actor Barry Keoghan plays Martin, the teenager who brings tragedy and horror into the Murphy family, as a dopey all-American teen who, though he is the architect of the horror of the movie, never becomes a scenery chewing villain. Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou’s script keeps him reined in, doubling the unsettling feeling around the character. Kidman and Farrell’s children are played by relative newcomers Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic, who both take on the weird premise of the movie (which I’m being coy about, because I don’t want to spoil anything) and make it their own, never being crowded out of the scenes they share with Farrell and Kidman.
Overall: The Killing of a Sacred Deer will polarise audiences, much like The Lobster did. It is a very funny movie but the comedy is pitch black dark. It is also a terrifying movie though there are no monsters and only a handful of jump scares (thanks to some incredibly unsettling musical choices). It is something wholly unique and an incredible take on a parents’ worst nightmare.
When I first saw The Lobster I described it as being like a Wes Anderson script directed by David Lynch. I now see this is a disservice to Yorgos Lanthimos. The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer are very much like a Lanthimos script directed by Lanthimos. He has proven himself to be one of the most creative, exciting auteurs working today, and working in whichever genre he damn well pleases.
Featured Image: A24