The Killing of a Sacred Deer Review (Toronto International Film Festival)

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There is a torturous, biting audio that surrounds Yorgos Lanthimos latest surreal picture, The Killing of a Sacred Deer. It drones on from scene to scene, sometimes leaving completely, but lurking alongside the visual, ready to add that piercing sonic climax.

We follow cardiologist Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell in full black comedy form, wearing a survivalist beard) as he navigates life or death karma in the form of deranged teenager, Martin (Barry Keoghan). He’s polite and friendly early on, offering gifts and a dinner invite, showing interest in Steven’s life and family. This leads Martin into the Murphy family’s home and the consequences are grave. The tonal changes in The Killing of a Sacred Deer are a real achievement for Lanthimos, who brings back the unforgettable absurdity of his previous film, The Lobster, only lathering on a thick coat of horror.

In a market flush with bad ideas and rehashed material, the director and writer Efthymis Filippou manage to captivate with a sadistic montage that is at once a unique animal and a horror mystery, marrying Kubrick and Haneke in its aesthetic.

From children with bleeding eyes to Steven’s daughter, Kim (Raffey Cassidy), crawling along a dreary basement half paralyzed and warped, there are frames and segments that will sear into your brain, leaving you emotionally rocked, senses beaten and full of wonder as to what could possibly come next.

Nicole Kidman commands the screen as Anna Murphy, Steven’s wife and ultimate sufferer for his sins. At first speaking in a strange, ultra frank manner — akin to all characters, there’s a sense they’ve all started on the brink of mental collapse, until we see them crumble in the wake of certain devastation that leaves pitch black humour buried beneath cold terror and psychological breaks. Kidman echoes her performance in Eyes Wide Shut — Stanley Kubrick’s own vehicle to another dimension. Lanthimos is solidifying himself as a master of that ability to bring us to a place we’ve never experienced. He uses exasperating close-ups of his actors in distress, until we’re begging for the next expert tracking shot —again with the ear-shattering sound wave in the cut — to bring it back to a breathable place.

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In a market flush with bad ideas and rehashed material, the Greek director — and writer Efthymis Filippou — manage to captivate with a sadistic montage that is at once a unique animal and a horror mystery, marrying Kubrick and Haneke in its aesthetic.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer will take the Toronto International Film Festival hostage this year, audiences will leave slightly changed, that Lanthimos touch clouds the mind long after the smash cut to black. You will ponder the gore, beauty and symphony in his filmmaking, the strangeness of it all and the countless questions and conversations that will carry The Killing of a Sacred Deer towards becoming a classic.

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