Imagine a remake of Cape Fear shot like Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, with Max Cady recast as a child, and you'll have some idea of the strangeness of Yorgos Lanthimos' The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Thanks to its delirious story and aggressively arty stylization, it's sure to divide audiences. But I was mostly charmed (is that the word?) by this poisoned curio, in which brilliant heart surgeon Stephen Murphy (Colin Farrell) is told by Martin (Barry Keoghan), the young, troubled son of a patient who died at the doctor's hands, that he must choose one family member to sacrifice in order to save the others. A sudden, mysterious illness has already robbed Stephen's young son Bob (Sunny Suljic) of the use of his legs, and Martin says that the boy's death is imminent unless Stephen makes a choice. Teenage daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) soon becomes afflicted as well, and Martin assures everyone that Stephen's wife (Nicole Kidman) will be next. How is Martin making this happen? Can he be stopped? These are questions for another movie. In Lanthimos' oracular world, the boy's power is total and unquestioned. And Keoghan walks a perfect line between awkward teen and metaphysical force.
You can read any number of political, historical or religious overtones into this: broken children claiming a blood debt from those responsible for their agony, and the sacrifices that must be made in return. Lanthimos knows how to weave a spell, with his impeccably symmetrical frames, his precise camera moves and careful blocking of actors. Does it feel a little like he's borrowing too much from The Shining? Sure, but if you're going to steal, steal from the best.