I asked, you voted on Twitter, and now I am writing my very first film review for this website! I polled my followers on Twitter asking if you wanted my first review from Fantastic Fest to be Gerald's Game, 1922, Professor Marston & the Wonder Women, or the winner, The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
Before I really go in depth on certain details that had me either enthused or disappointed, I want to share with you what I wrote over on Letterboxd; think of this as a brief summarization or a TL;DR in regards to my thoughts on The Killing of a Sacred Deer:
"The Killing of a Sacred Deer has me shook. Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman are great as always, but Barry Keoghan is the highlight of this dark, suspenseful, and surprisingly funny psychological thriller. Combined with powerful performances from the whole cast, the bone-chilling score creates an unsettling environment. It is a slow burn, but intriguing throughout the whole film. It is a mystery that has you constantly trying to figure out what is going on, and explains very little, leaving the film up to interpretation. This works mostly well for me, but I would’ve been fine with a couple more answers and details filled in." - @KevWatchesFilms on Letterboxd.com.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer marks the second time director Yorgos Lanthimos and actor Colin Farrell have collaborated for a film distributed in the USA by A24, the first collaboration being 2016's The Lobster. This is also the first time we have seen Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman in the same film since The Beguiled oh so long ago in the summer of 2017. Much like The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a dark comedy that goes in deep on the theme of mortality, but does so in the way of a tight and well-written psychological thriller.
I am a bad-news-first kind of guy, so let’s go ahead and jump right in and discuss the downfalls of The Killing of a Sacred Deer. There are not many at all, but it still is not a perfect film and I feel like I should explain why I feel that way. I will probably sound rather vague, but that is because I do not want to spoil anything about this film other than what is obvious from the trailers; everyone needs to go into this film almost as blindly as possible.
Now, I know this is what Lanthimos was going for, but I was not a huge fan of how much of the film is left to viewer interpretation at the end. I was really hoping for a few more details explained and questions answered before the credits started rolling. I do believe I know what happened in the film, especially after reading some other reviews and talking with people who also saw the film at Fantastic Fest, but there is no direct explanation as to how the events of the film are happening.
I was also hoping for a bit more horror. The film is billed as a dark comedy as well as a psychological horror/thriller, and it is, but a lot of the horror felt by the characters of the film was not felt by me as a viewer. The antagonist (Barry Keoghan) provides our antihero (Colin Farrell) an ultimatum that no one should ever have to face, and it is done so out of revenge. Of course I would be scared out of my pants in this situation, but it is such a farfetched situation that it is near impossible for the viewer to be terrified as well. The film is highly tense and loaded with “WTF” moments, but it lacks in horror.
The positives of The Killing of a Sacred Deer far outweigh the negatives, so I will not bore you with an explanation of everything I love about this film, but I do want to explore a few of my absolute favorite aspects of this stunning film.
I called it stunning because the cinematography, and everything else dealing with aesthetic appeal (lighting, color, etc.), are otherworldly. I expect this out of a Yorgos Lanthimos film because I felt the same way about The Lobster even though I did not connect to that story as deeply as I did with this film. The cinematography is presented in such a haunting way that I have come to appreciate because of A24. There is one scene in particular where a character’s eyes start bleeding; I will never get that image out of my head. The Killing of a Sacred Deer really is such a visual feast for the eyes.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer boasts what is probably my favorite score coming out of Fantastic Fest 2017. This is an exceptionally quiet film that relies on score and dialogue to create tension and incredibly unsettling environments. I described the score as bone-chilling on Letterboxd because of the minor keys and dissonance that are extremely prominent all throughout the film.
I must shout out the most Fantastic Fest crowd-pleasing moment of the film and that is when Keoghan’s character simply says, “That’s fantastic!”, which is the slogan of Fantastic Fest. All of us in the crowd laughed and applauded so much that we missed the next few seconds of dialogue.
Finally, I need to talk about the performances in this film. All of the supporting cast, Nicole Kidman included, contribute to one of the best ensembles I have seen in a film this year, but Barry Keoghan and Colin Farrell standout amongst the crowd as our two leads. Farrell’s character, a surgeon, struggles with the idea of mortality all throughout the film. One line, that is also mentioned in the trailer, states that a surgeon can’t kill a patient, but an anesthesiologist can. This is a critical piece of dialogue for many reasons that I will not get into because of spoilers, but it shows Farrell’s philosophy of mortality that he must convey through expressionless emotions and dialogue. He does so flawlessly, giving what could potentially be an Oscar-worthy performance.
Barry Keoghan is an up and coming star in show business whom, this year alone, has been in Dunkirk and now The Killing of a Sacred Deer. From the get go, Keoghan does an incredible job of giving such an unsettling performance due to the combination of his character’s innocence and psychological issues. He can flip a switch; one minute he is sweet and innocent and charming, but the next minute he is flat out psychotic and demented. This is easily the best performance of Keoghan’s young career.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is not perfect, nor will it end up in my top 10 films of the year, but it is still a really good movie that you would expect from Yorgos Lanthimos and A24. The film is left to interpretation at times; if you dig that, then you will love this film. I do highly recommend this film to people who tend to love artsy indie films and tense, unsettling thrillers. The Killing of a Sacred Deer has a limited release in American theaters on October 20, 2017 before going wide on October 27, 2017.