Hard choices: Colin Farell and Nicole Kidman in The Killing Of A Sacred Deer
A married man must atone for his sins by making an agonising choice in The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, which reunites writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) with star Colin Farrell
IN 2009, Greek writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos garnered enough awards to clutter a mantelpiece and a deserved Oscar nomination for his deliciously quirky, dystopian drama Dogtooth.
Weird waltzed hand-in-hand with wonderful inside a secluded compound, where middle-aged parents nurtured their grown-up son and two daughters with an unsettling blend of lip-curling cruelty and kindness.
Ever since, the Athens-born film-maker has delighted us with his dizzyingly inventive and original character studies, which inhabit a netherworld between reality and fantasy, including the Oscar-nominated love story The Lobster.
In The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, Lanthimos and regular co-writer Efthymis Filippou draw loosely on Greek mythology for a twisted and beguiling morality tale that tests one beleaguered father's love to breaking point.
Revenge is served ice cold, garnished with shavings of creeping psychological dread, set to a discordant soundscape by Johnnie Burn that artfully juxtaposes classical music with an a cappella rendition of Ellie Goulding's dancefloor hit Burn.
Like all of Lanthimos' earlier work, the film is distinguished by the quality of the writing and he skilfully employs staccato lines of dialogue to pique curiosity and set our nerves on edge.
"Our daughter started menstruating last week," a father casually mentions to a colleague during a black-tie gala dinner. "She was a little scared."
Social niceties are gnawed to the bone.
Cardiac surgeon Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) meets with a mysterious 16-year-old called Martin (Barry Keoghan).
A few days later, Steven invites Martin to his home and introduces the guest to his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), 14-year-old daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and younger son Bob (Sunny Suljic).
Over dinner, Martin sombrely reveals that he lost his father in a car accident so now it is just him and his mother (Alicia Silverstone).
Soon after, a strange affliction takes hold of the Murphy household.
"Dad, I can't get up," whimpers Bob one morning. "My legs are numb!"
The boy is rushed into hospital, where his condition worsens, and then Kim is struck down by the same debilitating symptoms.
"I don't know if what is happening is fair," Martin enigmatically informs Anna, "but it's the only thing I can think of that's close to justice."
The Killing Of A Sacred Deer comes tantalisingly close to replicating the macabre genius of Lanthimos' earlier work, but falls short in the final act.
Farrell and Kidman deliver haunting performances, the latter laying herself bare for disconcerting sex sequences, while Keoghan oozes righteous rage as a son on a mission to assuage grief with a sacrifice.
A blackly humorous scene with a shotgun is a jaw-dropping flourish that reminds us of the writer-director's ability to smack gobs without straining credibility.
Lanthimos gleefully plays with madness and almost nudges us over the edge of sanity with the characters.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (15, 121 mins) Thriller/Horror/Romance.
Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone.
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos.
Released: November 3