Killing of a Sacred Deer, The (2017)
Release Date: October 27th, 2017 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos Actors: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Camp
fter the tragic results of a surgery, gifted cardiologist Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) attempts to comfort young Martin Lang (Barry Keoghan). Initially just spending a little time with the boy, the doctor eventually finds himself providing money and meeting his new friend for lunch several times a week. When Steven invites Martin over to his house for dinner, and the awkward youth is introduced to his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and children Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic), the boy’s behavior becomes more peculiar and obsessive. Soon, Steven is faced with a horrifying revelation about Martin’s intentions and must make an unthinkable choice that will forever alter his family.
Operatic music and graphic open-heart surgery open “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” a film as simple as an adaptation of Iphigenia and the consequences of playing god, or as abstruse as the fears of parenting. Unfortunately, writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos has gone from his critically acclaimed satire “The Lobster,” which itself was rife with allegorical representations, to a new level of artistic incomprehensibility. There’s little about this latest venture that can be spoken about with any certainty. Audiences will either find this cinematic aloofness engrossing or irritating; it’s unlikely to find a middle ground.
In the first – and, perhaps, greatest – mistake, the characters are scripted to speak and behave exactly as the characters did in “The Lobster.” Rather than defining a fresh set of rules and performances, the dialogue is again dry, outspoken, and comically abrupt, with personas vocalizing their innermost thoughts – thoughts that no relatable, real-world person would utter. Here, the initial sequences shift their subject matters so hastily, it’s as if the movie has changed into a completely different one after every scene. The preference of a leather watchband to a metal one, a predilection for apple pie at a specific diner, and the intricacies of gift-giving are each concepts that seem to exist in separate pictures, despite being spoken of in a matter of seconds. And Farrell and his supporting cast deliver monotonic, expressionless speeches, without emphasis or concern. It’s as if “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is set in the same universe as “The Lobster,” yet there is no sense of futurism or dystopian crises.
“Can I give you a hug?” Shot like a horror film, with music that clearly instructs the audience to grow more anxious and warier as time goes on, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is both hysterically uncomfortable and eerily nerve-wracking. Something about these people and their secretive actions is terribly off. The pervasive weirdness (notably from sexual aberrancy) translates into a very slow build, with the strangeness refusing to desist. The problem with this approach is that it puts considerable pressure on the outcome; the narrative cannot contain only the escalation of dread, without payoff. So when the finale finally arrives, it had better be powerful and eye-opening.
Unpredictably, it all only turns more inexplicable. Clues abound (such as a clip from “Groundhog Day,” in which Andie MacDowell’s Rita exclaims, “You’re not a god!”), while Steven’s deadpan manner morphs into brief moments of rational decision-making (which is rather ill-fitting considering his behavior at the start), but the storytelling avoids articulate answers. “It’s a metaphor! It’s symbolic!” shouts Martin at one point, though his utterance doesn’t solve any of the larger mysteries.
The picture is nicely shot and interesting to look at, but the story is a mess of actions and imagery that don’t add up to a cohesive vision. Is it about religion, or efficiency, or justice, or revenge, or chaos? Is it the comic version of “Sophie’s Choice” meets “Funny Games”? Or is it just an exercise in absurdity? Despite Lanthimos surely vying for thought-provoking debates, the purpose and the meaning of this abstract presentation hold little weight when the characters are unsympathetic and unchanging; there’s tension over the severity of the Murphys’ plight, but there’s an emptiness in the resolution, predominantly from the absence of discernible intent. If a lesson is being learned, it is one of patience by the viewer.
– The Massie Twins