Review: Cold, Surgical 'The Killing Of A Sacred Deer' Starring Colin Farrell And Nicole Kidman

If it gets booed at Cannes, make sure you run out and see it. Yorgos Lanthimos' awesomely and accurately-titled (if you know Greek myth) The Killing of a Sacred Deer met with jeers from the Cannes crowd, who were apparently less than thrilled with its nihilistic tenor. Actually, to say the film is nihilistic is an understatement. It's downright demonic, a bone-chilling examination of evil in its purest form, riddled with black-as-night humor that you'll be disgusted with yourself after. Those going in expecting another absurdist fable like The Lobster will probably come away shook.

Returning to Lanthimos' fevered mindscape is Colin Farrell, who plays cardiologist Steven Murphy. Steven's cold, clinical demeanor and stiff conversational skills aren't just relegated to him, but to everybody as one of Lanthimos' signature tics. Early on while in conversation with a colleague, Steven flatly reveals that his 14-year-old daughter Kim (Tomorrowland's Raffey Cassidy) has just begun menstruating. It's not met with the astonishment it should've, but then weirdness does appear to be the norm. Steven's holding hush-hush meetings with a young boy, Martin (Dunkirk's Barry Keoghan, chilling), and it's clear something is up between them. We aren't clued in to it at first but the secrecy suggests something of a potentially abusive nature. Barry's soft-spoken gratitude and eagerness to please are just as disturbing.

Everything about Steven's life is just a tad off, but recognizable enough that maybe its our own preconceived notions at work? Steven's odd, icy marriage to Anna (Nicole Kidman) has her playing dead as a means of getting him sexually aroused; and his 12-year-old son Bob (Sunny Sulgic) is as obsessed with body hair as his father. So these people are already pretty weird even before Martin is invited into their home, where his peculiarity charms Anna and woos Kim. Being strange worked out for him, but not so much his mother's (Alicia Silverstone, great in a minor role) super awkward flirtations with Steven, although they do deliver the movie's biggest laugh line.

What follows is a series of escalating wickedness, as Martin's intentions are proven to be decidedly impure. In this twisted Kubrickian scenario, Steven is forced to make an impossible choice, backed into a corner by a boy who feels similarly caged in, and has decided to lunge for the attack. If The Lobster was, in its own ridiculous way, about how love removes choice from our hands, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is about the destructive impact our choices can have. When those choices are of life and death the catastrophic potential increases tenfold.

Gruesome is one word to describe it. What else would you call a film that begins with two minutes of unobscured open heart surgery, and has a scene where a character chews off a chunk of their own flesh? But what is truly savage is the surgical precision that revenge can be exacted and weaknesses preyed upon. The blunt instrument of that is Martin, played with disturbing skill by Barry Keoghan, who had perhaps the most gut-wrenching moment in Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk. As Martin he comes across as painfully normal, which makes the horrible things he does all the more terrifying. All of the cast have become attuned to Lanthimos' stilted, downbeat register, though, and of course Farrell is accustomed to it by now.

There will be a split in the reaction to this one, of course, like everything Lanthimos does. Not everybody gets down with his flat pacing, the disconnect from his characters, and the grave worldview. But for those who are already under Lanthimos' spell, The Killing of a Sacred Deer demands your attention.

Rating: 4 out of 5