Yorgos Lanthimos’s follow-up to his English-language debut, The Lobster, is just as alienating and overtly-artificial as the rest of his filmography. But where The Lobster was an unsubtle satire of romantic relationships (and society’s relentless reinforcement of their homogenous restrictions), The Killing of a Sacred Deer is harder to nail down. The story may be simpler – an alcoholic doctor (Colin Farrell) finds his family (including wife Nicole Kidman) cursed by an ex-patient’s nefarious son (the incredible Barry Keoghan) – but unlike Lobster or Dogtooth, it never settles into the mode of palatable parable.
As such, this is an even more uncomfortable viewing experience than those two films. Conversely, it’s less satisfying; though that’s likely a reflection of my misguided desire to fit something so unconventional into familiar packaging. While Sacred Deer can’t be reduced into a straightforward satire, it is clear that at its centre is a distrust of conventional human morality. Here, Lanthimos imagines a world where ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are false signifiers concealing human selfishness. When contrasted against conventional cinema – invariably possessed of some morality, even it’s one that clashes with our own compass – it makes perfect sense that The Killing of the Sacred Deer is so existentially uncomfortable.