Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Killing of a Sacred Deer: a dread-inducing myth of demanded penance (QFT 3-16 November)

Colin Farrell plays Dr Steven Murphy a who caught up in a Grimm fairy tale in which act of medical negligence can only be repented for by the sacrifice of someone dear to the cardiovascular surgeon. The man who plays God in his role at the hospital, and learned the hard way not to do so under the influence of alcohol, is confronted by a vengeful child who demands an act of penance. As the title says, what’s needed is The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

Steven has befriended teenage Martin (Barry Keoghan). Their relationship, their fondness for each other and the giving of gifts feels uncomfortable, but is driven by something other than sex. Steven’s connection with his wife Anna, an ophthalmologist played by Nicole Kidman, is unconventional (particularly in the bedroom) but consistent with the spectrum of awkwardness at play.

A curse – maybe even a series of plagues – is revealed when the couple’s son Bob (Sunny Suljic) wakes up one morning and has lost the power of his legs. Gradually Steven becomes aware of the bind in which his family have become trapped. Medical experts pore over the growing number of patients without realising that they need access to supernatural diagnostics rather than MRI scanners.

Like The Lobster, director Yorgos Lanthimos has again created a world in which norms are turned on their head, and a film in which there are two distinctive parts. The opening hour sets up the rules of the game and the board on which the socially awkward Murphy family must play; the second half sees what happens when they apply themselves to the dilemma at hand.

The creepy patterns of speech are echoed in the disturbing music tracks – deep ratchety and distressed strings, the ever-rising sound of a kettle boiling, soaring religious voices – that created a sense of unease in my chest that lingered a few hours after leaving the cinema.

The camera often keeps its distance, observing from afar or gazing over other people’s shoulders. In one scene it looks down from the high ceiling in a hospital reception’s atrium, capturing the drama from a position of helplessness. Never has tomato ketchup been so symbolically squirted over chips in a movie, and a glace of cool pure water sipped to so mockingly.

Throughout the film, the hirsute Farrell remains overly rational as his oft-commented upon hands lose their grip of the order he demands in his life.

Each member of the threatened family begins to adapt to the deathly quandary and fight for their own survival. Kidman exudes an air of emotionally-constrained concern as she at first gently explores the circumstances of her husband’s relationship with Michael, and then takes matters into her own hands to find out the facts of the botched surgery three years prior.

Raffey Cassidy impresses as the naïve daughter Kim who begins to mirror her mother’s coolness and confidence as 14 year old Kim realises that she’ll need to adopt grown up tactics in order to survive the seemingly inevitable cull. (My only gripe with the screenplay is that Kim’s obvious tunelessness is at odds with her membership of such a talented choir.)

Keoghan is superb as the evil engineer of the Murphy’s distress, never showing any sign of personal pain as Michael and holding his own among the more experienced stars cast in the film.

Unsettling in nature and uncomfortably long, The Killing of a Sacred Deer creates a disturbing mythology that is well executed on the big screen. If you can stomach two hours of joyless dread, head along to the Queen’s Film Theatre between Friday 3 and Thursday 16 November for a real cinematic treat of story-telling!

1 comment:

Geraldine said...

looks like an awesome film, Colin certainly gets some out of the box roles.