‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ Review
When we become a spouse and a parent, we immediately develop a mode of protection never before experienced. We would do anything possible to protect our kids and spouse – even die for them if necessary. In The Killing of a Sacred Deer, one of the most gifted and imaginative filmmakers working today forces us to consider a terrifying scenario: what if we had to select one of our family members to die?
Yorgos Lanthimos delivered the most bizarre and interesting film of 2016 with The Lobster. This time out he re-teams with co-writer Efthymis Filippou, although this story eschews the dark humor of their previous film, opting instead for a type of gut-wrenching psychological warfare we have not previously witnessed on screen.
The goal here is not to make the viewer uncomfortable. Mr. Lanthimos wants us downright miserable from the tension. This is obvious from the opening scene as Schubert accompanies a close-up look at open-heart surgery, and continues through the awkward conversations and speech patterns as we get to know the characters. A terrific Collin Farrell plays the surgeon Dr Steven Murphy. Nicole Kidman is his wife (also a doctor), and their kids Kim and Bob are played by Raffey Cassidy (Tomorrowland) and Sunny Sulgic, respectively. The wild card is Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk) who plays Martin, the most charming and oddball stalker who is hell bent on revenge and retribution. Keoghan is quite brilliant in this most difficult role.
Beyond the psycho-revenge plot lies a story of survival and atonement, making for an excruciatingly unsettling time in the theatre. We feel the vice tightening on us as the tone shifts from uncertain awkwardness to dark sinister intentions. Director Lanthimos and his regular cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis are in perfect sync with the various harsh angles (high and low spiked with screeching violins) and the necessary tight shots to emphasize the uneasiness and confusion of the characters.
Alicia Silverstone is quite memorable in her one scene as Martin’s mother. Frustrated that her flirtations with Steven aren’t reciprocated, she belts out the year’s greatest line of dialogue: “I won’t let you leave until you’ve tried my tart!” Of course, we couldn’t expect sexual relations to be any closer to normal than the conversations, and Ms. Farrell and Ms. Kidman ensure this to be so. Truly at the peak of the acting profession, Ms. Kidman has never shied away from tough material or less-than-ideal characters. Her strength and determination come through in every scene here, and it’s her scene at Martin’s home where she really puts her stamp on the film.
As difficult as it is to describe the film without giving anything away, one thing is certain – it’s a horror film. It’s difficult to imagine a more frightening scenario than what shakes out here with touches of both Sophie’s Choice and The Deer Hunter, while also having nothing in common with those films. The film’s title comes courtesy of Euripides, and its suspenseful awkwardness achieves a level rarely seen. The next feature from Mr. Lanthimos (starring Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz) is due next year, and if the line was forming now, I’d be in it.