Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell in The Killing of a Sacred Deer (A24)

The distinctions between comedy and tragedy are fine margins in classical Greek mythology. Philosopher Richard Patterson, in his book The Platonic Art of Tragedy and Comedy, states that “the two apparently separate genres, in fact, constitute a single art.” In this light, the surrealist films of Yorgos Lanthimos are an ode and modern form of Platonic play. Continuing this “single art,” The Killing of a Sacred Deer may yet be Lanthimos’ most accomplished work. Theoretically nuanced and darkly comic, the Greek director uses the narrative template of Euripides’s Iphigenia in Aulis with an acute cinematic edge to transcend its literary origins.

Returning as Lanthimos’s protagonist after an eye-catching role in The Lobster, Colin Farrell has seamlessly adjusted to the strangeness of the filmmaker’s world. Delivering dialogue in a deadpan tone, the actor’s performance captures the stillness and rigidity epitomized in his character’s position as a surgeon. Opening in a tight close-up of a patience’s exposed chest amid heart surgery, it’s hard not to be reminded of an Italian giallo’s sadistic gore. Director of photography Thimios Bakatakis’s consequentially juxtaposes the tightness of this shot with a long hallway where Steven and his anesthesiologist, Matthew (Bill Camp), discuss their expensive watches. Within these two scenes, Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou’s script, combined with Baksatakis’s cinematography, construct a platform for the film to then build on.

Bookended by two spectacles of gore, its left to the film’s middle portion to create a tactile sense a dread and fear. A large proportion of this section is deeply linked to Martin (Barry Keoghan), a manipulative, needy teenager. As a result of an operation gone wrong, later revealed as that of Martin’s father, Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) meets up with the teenager regularly at a diner. The older man’s rationale is initially unclear: Is it out of guilt? Inviting Martin around for dinner at his home, Steven inadvertently inflicts internal damage to his family by exposing his reserved young son, Bob (Sunny Suljic), and his venerable teenage daughter, Kim (Raffey Cassidy)—she has just started menstruating as her father informs his colleges and Martin.

As in Sofia Coppola’s The BeguiledFarrell and Nichole Kidman, as his wife, Anna, interact in a cool manner. (In fact, the entire Murphy household speaks and reacts mostly in a monotone fashion.) From her dialogue, we learn that Steven appears to have had an alcohol addiction. Keeping him on a straight line, Anna maintains an idyllic familiar state, until Martin enters the picture because of Stephen’s past indiscretion. In an initial scene that illustrates the couple’s peculiar sexual life, Kidman performs in a provocative manner reminiscent of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.

Returning the generosity shown by the surgeon, Martin invites Steven to his house for dinner. After an awkward, sexual approach by his mother (Alicia Silverstone), the deranged nature of Keoghan’s character forces Steve into a tragic predicament. The sins of the father not only affect the son but reverberate around Steven’s entire family.

The audience becomes a voyeur, yet paradoxically immersed in a heightened sense of unease as a result of the droll dialogue and the cold human characters. By way of a screeching score, the music furthers the abnormal ambience, where a jolting sound may be around any corner. That, and alongside Martin’s possessiveness over the family, gives off a chill for most of the movie.

As with the uncanny ending of The Lobster, one will be left in a bewildering state of confusion and wonder. Lanthimos crafts a Buñuelian conclusion that truly constitutes a singular Platonic tragedy.

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Written by Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou
Released by A24
UK/Ireland.  121 min. Rated R
With Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone, and Bill Camp