MOVIE REVIEW: Nicole Kidman shines in dark, eerie thriller
NO ANIMALS were harmed in the making of this film, but Colin Farrell's successful surgeon is slowly and painfully emasculated during the course of the production.
Dr Steven Murphy's wife (Nicole Kidman) and their two children, however, bear the brunt of the physical trauma since they are the instruments of his torture.
Yorgos Lanthimos's films are profoundly idiosyncratic. The Greek director doesn't turn his characters' lives upside down so much as shake them up at a molecular level.
But while the situations they encounter are surreal, the emotional logic of the world they inhabit makes perfect sense.
Following on from The Lobster, set in a dystopian parallel universe and starring Farrell and Rachel Weisz, The Killing of a Sacred Deer takes place against a more familiar backdrop.
Not everything in this psychological thriller, however, can be explained by science.
Steven, a cardiovascular surgeon, and Anna, an ophthalmologist, appear to be a textbook professional couple living a well-ordered domestic existence in an affluent American suburb.
Anna's attentive, almost controlling behaviour at a medical conference at which her husband is guest speaker, however, suggests some kind of underlying tension.
The couple's erotic role-play - in which she happily pretends to have been anaesthetised - is also a little unsettling.
In contrast to the rest of his well-ordered life, there are no clear boundaries in Steven's relationship with the fatherless youth he meets up with from time to time and who has some strange kind of hold over the older man.
Martin (Barry Keoghan) is unfailingly polite, but there's a whiff of menace in the unpredictability of their interactions, fuelled by the young man's insistent neediness and Steven's desire to placate him, often with expensive gifts.
The Killing Of a Sacred Deer, which takes its title from the Greek myth of Iphigenia, should be seen without plot spoilers.
Suffice to say, Steven is led slowly, inexorably to an inconceivable choice.
Lanthimos and long-time writing partner Efthymis Filippou (the pair was nominated for a screenwriting Oscar for The Lobster) expertly ramp up the tension until its almost unbearable.
They couldn't have pulled it off without uniformly strong performances - there's not a weak link in the cast.
Keoghan is mesmerising as the troubled youth, shifting seamlessly between vulnerable teen and masterful manipulator.
But the success of the film rests on the interaction between Farrell's guilty, gutless protagonist and Kidman's exceptionally nuanced characterisation of his wife (a role that in lesser hands might well have come across as underdeveloped).
The actress is in her element here, conveying the subtext of Lanthimos's deadpan dialogue with the smallest of facial gestures.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer opens in cinemas tomorrow.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Stars: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan.
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Rating: MA 15+
Verdict: 4.5 stars