This review originally ran as part of our coverage of Fantastic Fest. With the film opening in theaters today, we’re running it again.
As with his 2015 relationship absurdo-comedy, The Lobster, about a quaint island resort where awkward singles are hunted for sport, Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, stars Colin Farrell, and seems to take place entirely within an alternate universe where everyone is simultaneously extremely awkward and extremely forthright. A representative moment is when Farrell’s character introduces his daughter, saying, “This is my daughter, Kim. She’s 14. She’s just had her first menstruation last week.”
It’s a style of hyper-arch psuedo-realism reminiscent of a Don DeLillo novel, a European arthouse Napoleon Dynamite, or a comedic Robert Bresson. Characters don’t try to make the lines sound natural (partly because they aren’t), so much as nibble them tentatively, as if sampling exotic foods. As with The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is consistently hilarious on the strength of oddness and Colin Farrell alone for at least the first 40 minutes. Farrell is like a human German shepherd — stately, thoughtful, and doubly adorable when perplexed. The way I used to make strange noises just to see my dog cock his head to the side, I get the same enjoyment from Colin Farrell furrowing his brow at the latest development in a highly unusual narrative. Which of course makes perfectly suited to play a Lanthimos lead.
Deer isn’t high concept in quite the same way as The Lobster, which created a vivid comic universe with obvious parallels to the real world. It’s more like an internal debate about whether parents should like one child better than another stretched to epic, operatic proportions. With emphasis on both “operatic” and “stretched”.
Farrell’s Steven Murphy is a Cincinnati cardiologist with two children, a beautiful ophthalmologist wife (Nicole Kidman), and a peculiar fixation with wristwatches. He spends the first 10 minutes of the film debating leather bands vs. metal with his friend, Matthew (the always great character actor Bill Camp), like some kind of deleted American Psycho scene, before going home to play quirky sex games with his wife. “General anesthesia?” she asks, before pulling down her underpants and pretending to be comatose on the bed.