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8 December, 2017 00:00 00 AM

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

The rich vein of unsettling darkness and psychological unease that ripples like a treacherous underground stream beneath the absurdist humour of Yorgos Lanthimos' work becomes a brooding requiem of domestic horror in his masterfully realised feature, The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Reaching back to classical Greek tragedy for inspiration, this hypnotic tale of guilt and retribution provides an even more riveting role for Colin Farrell after his collaboration on the Greek director's English-language debut, The Lobster. He's flanked by a never-better Nicole Kidman and a performance of chilling effectiveness from emerging Irish talent Barry Keoghan.

The film's grim scenario of a family under dire threat will make it hard for some to watch. But the impressive rigour of its craft, the skillfully subdued intensity of the acting and the startling originality of the story will make the film unmissable for anyone who cares about bold filmmaking.

The movie begins with a solemn blast of a Schubert Stabat Mater, and a graphic close-up of the final stages of open-heart surgery, before cutting to cardiologist Steven Murphy (Farrell) and his anesthesiologist and friend Matthew (Bill Camp) walking the Cincinnati hospital corridor discussing wristwatches.

Lanthimos and regular screenwriting partner Efthimis Filippou drop us into a diner appointment between Steven and 16-year-old Martin (Keoghan), revealing the nature of their relationship only gradually. The medic is patient and kind with the boy, though Farrell conveys a mild cautiousness beneath Steven's nurturing demeanour, hinting from the start that he's aware of some ill-defined but disquieting intention behind Martin's eyes and his guileless smile.

It emerges that Steven has said nothing of his frequent meetings with Martin to his ophthalmologist wife Anna (Kidman), or their children, 14-year-old Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and preteen Bob (Sunny Suljic). He also lies casually to Matthew when Martin drops by the hospital unexpectedly, introducing him as a school friend of his daughter's.

Family meals at the Murphys' dinner table set a scene of domestic harmony and affection couched in an almost unnatural climate of mutual respect. There's a mesmerising glacial quality to the movie, both before and after the life-or-death stakes are raised.

The film's title clues us into what’s coming with its reference to Euripides' Iphigenia in Aulis, which dramatised the dilemma of Agamemnon when his offense to Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, prompted her to demand that he sacrifice his eldest daughter.

Steven's perceived crime against Martin is that the boy's father died at 46 on his operating table, supposedly as a result of cardiac arrhythmia. At first, Martin keeps his rancour under wraps and is exceedingly pleasant when he's invited to meet Steven's family in their spacious home in the wealthy suburbs. But when Steven is forced to accept a reciprocal invitation to dine at Martin's far more humble residence, the boy's transparent attempt to set him up with his widowed mother (Alicia Silverstone) shows his disregard for the doctor's marriage and family.

With Martin showing up unannounced at the hospital with increasing frequency, and cozying up to Kim, who lies about their encounters, Steven's carefulness around him finally dissolves during their next meeting. Around the time Bob starts showing signs of an unexplained neurological disorder, an unnerved Steven demands an explanation for Martin's strange behaviour. With a cold composure from Keoghan that makes his words even more distressing, the boy informs Steven that having killed his father, the doctor now must take the life of one of his own family. If not, all three of them will get sick and die.

The overriding directive for the performers, however, appears to have been to hold back, favouring a calm, affectless delivery wherever possible. This is a movie that closes its grip on our fears by infinitesimal degrees, demonstrating that bone-deep, tightly clamped anxiety can be scarier than screaming terror.

As a horrific climactic scene involving a hunting rifle approaches, the lighting transforms the family home from airy open spaces to gloomy, almost Gothic stairwells and shadow-stained walls, while Lanthimos guides us with supreme control toward a wordless coda, its confronting malevolence lingering after the end credits roll.



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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