After seeing “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, you’ll want to call your parents…and make sure they love you more than your siblings. So maybe don’t watch this movie with your family. Also, don’t see it around Christmas, as it will instantly kill all the cheerful vibes of the holidays and being back home. However, do go watch it for a truly unique and emotionally traumatizing experience. For rather than punching you in the guts, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” slowly closes its fingers around your neck and squeezes tight. It’s dreadful, it’s scary, it’s weird. Needless to say, I loved it, and I think you will too if you give it a chance.
Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a heart surgeon who becomes a father figure to teenager Martin (Barry Keogan), whose father died while Steven had been operating on him. Steven denies all responsibility for the death, and it’s a closed case for him. Martin sees matters a bit differently, however. He has revenge on his mind. Without giving too much away, Steven is soon confronted with a most mysterious and terrible situation where he is forced to make an impossible choice.
The story is very dark, and the overall atmosphere of “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is one of helplessness and dread. Lanthimos focuses on showing the audience exactly what it feels like to have the snares grow tighter and tighter until you can’t take it anymore. He uses every cinematic tool available to get behind the psychology of the individual characters. A very difficult feat, but Lanthimos nails it. The music in particular is phenomenal. While it’s not exactly melodic, it is grand, imposing, and almost overwhelming. It fully conveys the feelings of terror, horror, and shock a hundred times more effectively than words could. Along with the very visceral and bloody images on screen, this just reaches the breaking point of becoming too much for the audience, exactly as it is for the characters.
A more direct way to transmit what the characters are feeling is through the actors, of course. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is one of the films where the actors will either make it or break it. Luckily, the cast includes the likes of Nicole Kidman, Raffey Cassidy, and Sunny Suljic, next to Farrell and Keogan. They could not have been better choices. Each actor portrays their character as a very strange and distant person. At first it is hard to relate to them, but as the movie progresses, we get hooked to them and their fates. Although we might not like the characters, the more we follow them through their purgatories, the more we begin to understand them and see what drives them. As they are all such great actors, they furthermore manage to convey the absurd humor of the movie, despite its heavy topic. There’s literally one scene where Farrell threatens his son by vowing to “shave your head and make you eat your hair!” And that’s only one example of many.
The only problem I had with “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” was that it was a bit slow-paced. Maybe Lanthimos wanted to draw out the dread and allow it to slowly culminate into the climax. This works fine as soon as the central problem is revealed, but before we reach it, we just kind of sit and wait for something to happen.
Nevertheless, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is a terrific movie. As soon as it gets rolling, you’re just sitting at the edge of your seat watching in horror as the situation gets worse and the characters struggle to overcome it. Although it’s anything but upbeat, I recommend it to anyone who ever felt like they were caught in a tight spot with no way out. This movie will instantly make you feel better about your situation. And no, the title does not make sense at the end of the film. Have fun watching it!
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” currently plays at AMC Loews Theatre, Kendall Square Cinema, and Somerville Theatre.
If you did not get enough of the strange, mysterious and dreadful, here are some more movies for you:
- “Black Hollow Cage” (González, 2017): A girl with a robotic arm and her father live secluded in a house in the woods, but when a teenage girl and her young brother come seeking shelter, dreadful things happen. Like “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”, it is a rather experimental film about desperately looking for a different outcome than what fate has in store for you.
- “In Bruges” (McDonagh, 2007): Also starring Colin Farrell, this movie follows two hitmen who are sent to Bruges after a disastrous job. The tone is definitely more comedic, but the subject is still very dark as the characters are also forced to take action and deal with the subsequent consequences in order to escape from their personal purgatory.
- “Old Boy” (Park, 2003): A man (Min-sik Choi) is kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years for no apparent reason. After he’s released, he sets out to get answers and to right some wrongs. “Old Boy” has a very similar tone to “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” with weird characters, themes about family and revenge, and taking action against those who mean you harm.