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Pact with horror

Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman star in exceedingly dark story of a heart surgeon in a bitter quandary

03 November, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Nicole Kidman in The Killing of a Sacred Deer

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Certificate 15
☆☆☆

THE ancient Greeks knew a thing or two about telling a tale with a moral at its heart. They loved a yarn about individuals faced with making a Devil’s pact that must be either forged or broken, forcing a protagonist to look within themselves and make a hideous choice, pay for past misdemeanours, or overcome a seemingly impossible task.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos’s exceedingly dark and creepy new film is based on the story of King Agamemnon, who wandered into a forest and killed a sacred deer with terrible consequences.

This version puts Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), a successful heart surgeon, in the centre of a bitter quandary.

He has a seemingly lovely life: a steady and rewarding job, a beautiful wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and two happy children.

Yet, from the off, we can sense there is something not quite right about this lifestyle-magazine world.

Simple conversations seem to be conducted in a stilted and off-key way. Camera angles feel wonky, and the opening scene, of a beating heart in a chest being operated on, is jarring, disturbing, and sets the tone straight away.

There is something dark lurking, and it comes in the form of a teenage boy Dr Murphy has befriended. Martin (Barry Keoghan) is the son of one of his patients who died in circumstances we gradually learn more about – and discover, too, why the pair have forged a strange friendship.

Martin has put forward a strange ultimatum, a Devil’s pact for Steven to fulfil – and as his children are hit with a strange malady, he has to consider how his past behaviour has got him to where he is today – and if he can somehow put right previous wrongs.

This is effective film-making. It gets top marks for the way each shot is formed to generate maximum unease, and Keoghan has aced it in the creep-out stakes.

But it also feels like the slow, slow shots are not only for effect but to drag things out a little.

The Murphys have very little chance to find a way out of the predicament they find themselves in, nor are we offered enough to understand why we should want them to.

Still, things are grim enough for this not to matter.

This should be filed under intelligent and effective horror. It will give you the chills.

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