A troubled teenager (Barry Keoghan) attempts to bring a brilliant surgeon (Colin Farrell) into his dysfunctional family take an unexpected and decidedly sinister turn.
Yorgos Lathminos' previous work, The Lobster, was a pretty strange film - and seemed to revel in its strangeness. It didn't care if you didn't get the odd, expressionless way the actors delivered their lines and it wasn't too pushed if you found it unsettling. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, when the full plot is laid out before you, reads like some kind of low-rent horror film. Troubled teenager tries to desperately ingratiate himself with a surgeon he struck up an unusual friendship with, things go sour very quickly. To be fair, if the basic outline of the story was directed or written by anyone else, you'd probably come up with a much different film and something a bit more palatable. Instead, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer presents itself from the opening scenes to the very end as something totally unique and unsettling.
In a strange way, the manner in which all the actors deliver their performance - from Barry Keoghan and Colin Farrell to Nicole Kidman and Raffey Cassidy - overlays beautifully with the unsettling nature of the film. The film moves between a sterile, working hospital and an equally sterile home where Farrell and Kidman live with their two children, and the blank delivery of their lines just adds to it. Keoghan gives a star-making performance as the unnaturally friendly Martin, and when the film takes a hard left over the cliff in the second act, he manages to make something as mundane as eating spaghetti look violent and horrifying. The way in which Farrell and Kidman interact with another is so lacking in any kind of human emotion is breathtaking; it's not even robotic as such, it's more like they're aliens pretending to be humans.
Again, this is what makes The Killing Of A Sacred Deer so fascinating to watch and might potentially throw off some of the audience. It knows it's being weird, it knows that its cast isn't delivering anything even close to a natural performance, and it doesn't care. The way Yorgos Lathminos places the camera in a lot of scenes - either hovering just over the characters or stalking them from the ground up - is classic horror and calls to mind Stanley Kubrick in The Shining. Even in how the production design is laid out; effortlessly clean to the point of rigidly, impeccably neat, is frightening. The atmosphere of dread ratchets up throughout the film until it comes to an unforgettable - and deeply disturbing - finale.
By no means is The Killing Of A Sacred Deer for everyone and if there was a film this year that had some commonality with it, it'd be Darren Aronofsky's mother!. Not in terms of the subject matter or its use of metaphor and the like, but that it doesn't necessarily offer any easy answers or give the audience any kind of leeway. You either have to strap in and get on board with the weirdness, or leave and let everyone else enjoy it. For those who can, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer gets under your skin and will stay with you for days.