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‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ tells a dark but unaffecting story

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Kidman and Farrell experience existential dread.
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Two and a half stars

The Killing of a Sacred Deer Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Rated R. Opens Friday at Downtown Summerlin.

The surreal deadpan of director Yorgos Lanthimos’ work takes an especially dark turn in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, a sort of modernized folk tale with all of the unsparing brutality of an unfiltered Brothers Grimm tale. It’s an archetypal revenge story told via Lanthimos’ typically absurdist take on human behavior, as characters speak in a detached, formal manner that’s deliberately alienating, both to the audience and to each other.

Colin Farrell, who starred in Lanthimos’ The Lobster, plays Steven Murphy, a successful surgeon who’s hiding a secret related to his clandestine meetings with creepy, affectless teenager Martin (Barry Keoghan). At first Martin seems harmless, but soon he’s placed a curse on Steven’s family, in retaliation for what he believes is Steven’s responsibility for his father’s death.

This kind of stark morality play is familiar from folklore going back thousands of years, and Lanthimos mostly plays it straight from a plot standpoint, through to its grim end. But stylistically, the movie is cold and off-putting, the awkward, stilted dialogue and almost robotic performances at odds with the necessary emotional investment to care about the story. Lanthimos knows how to push buttons and antagonize his audience, but here it just serves to make his movie less effective.

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