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A disturbing picture of guilt: ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ startles and unsettles

Yorgos Lanthimos is one of the most adventurous directors working today, consistently making films that are willing to unsettle an audience -- most recently “The Lobster,” an expectedly twisted but unexpectedly romantic take on modern love.

Lanthimos’ latest film, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” takes a much darker turn.

Colin Farrell teams up with Lanthimos once again, this time as Steven, one of the best cardiac surgeons in the greater Cincinnati area. His pleasant life is upturned by a strange teenager named Martin (Barry Keogan) who seemingly has an obsession with Steven and his family; they live an idyllic life in a nice suburb, while Martin describes both his home and neighborhood as “not so nice.”

With this film, Lanthimos has crafted a modern tragedy, though he claims the film was originally scripted as an absurdist, deadpan comedy. Some moments of dark comedy remain and although they can cut into the tension, they mostly allow the film to grow into its own as an original thriller.

Nicole Kidman co-stars as Anna, also a doctor and Steven’s wife. She, along with the rest of the cast, succeeds with an original script to guide them. Lanthimos directs all of his actors towards deadpan delivery with dry, short lines.

Sounds bad? It typically would be, hearing characters blatantly describe their emotions without much emphasis or personality, but it suits the film’s atmosphere. Not to mention the cast is talented enough to perform with subtlety, though a few scenes allow characters to open up.

Lanthimos paints a heavy picture that can be harsh and unnerving, especially with a classical score backdrop. Characters are flawed and continue to be that way -- not always accepting responsibility or pushing blame from person to person. Rarely does any character do the right thing.

“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is emotionally and psychologically disturbing; it uses dramatic cinematography and amazing tracking shots to add even more tension to the film. But somehow, scenes can feel a bit off with the emotionless language -- even with great performances.

Still, possessing an originality that audiences are demanding from Hollywood, Lanthimos is here to answer the call. All of his films have been very nihilistic, and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is no exception, illustrating that even good intentions can have horrifying ends.

Grade: B

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