The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Year: 2017
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Alicia Silverstone, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic

Written by Jessica Peña

It’s not often enough a film will come around that will leave you in awe, laughing, cringing, and downright terrified. Yorgos Lanthimos’ ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ will find you in these states and will claw at your psyche well after its ending credits. It carries very dark comedic tones and chilling subjects. The film examines the absence of any virtue and becomes one of the most unsettling and gratifying cinematic experiences of the year.

Dr. Stephen Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a renowned cardiovascular surgeon who lives a comfortable and pristine suburban life with his wife (Nicole Kidman), son (Sunny Suljic), and teenage daughter (Raffey Cassidy). It becomes known that he’s struggled with an alcohol problem in the past, leading to the death of a man on his operating table. Here’s where things get a little interesting. Held with a guilt, Stephen meets Martin (Barry Keoghan), the deceased patient’s 16 year old son. Martin begins to spend time with Stephen over the course of a few months. They get to know each other a little through meeting each other’s families, dinner visits, and ‘too close for comfort’ conversations. Martin tries endlessly to have Stephen in his life. There comes a point where Martin begins to cross the line on what he says to Stephen, making his family uncomfortable, and so Stephen ends all forms of communication with Martin. The youngest child, Bob, suddenly loses all feeling and mobility in his legs, causing Stephen and his wife to rush him to the hospital.

With no scientific or realistic explanation, the family is stumped. Martin shows up and asks Stephen for ten minutes of his time. Reluctantly, Stephen agrees. This is where Martin abruptly continues his ominous front. He tells Stephen to choose which of his loved ones to kill. If no decision is made within a timely manner, they will die one by one. First, they will lose function of their legs. Then, they will lose their appetite. Finally, they will begin to bleed from the eyes before their eventual death. Martin delivers this line so simply and so poised that we begin to wonder if he is the Devil incarnate. Martin’s vendetta becomes clear and Stephen’s world gets turned upside down. This is where ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ shoots its cold hearted madness through our soul.

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We watch misfortune strike this family and Stephen almost doesn’t know what to make of it all. Something that Lanthimos nods to is his recent film ‘The Lobster,’ where dialogue and normal human reaction is made to appear desolate. His characters are so very modern but there is a certain way of speech that will transport us deeper into the film, but will also bother us. In many instances, people would not react the way that these characters act. It throws a person off. Farrell and Kidman give exceptional performances that aren’t over the top, but succeed in helping such an eerie script. Beside Lanthimos’ excellent direction, Keoghan as Martin is what terrifies us the most. The young Dublin-born actor makes it seem so effortless in presenting this dead-eyed character. It’s not explained where Martin gains this supernatural power to bestow onto Stephen’s life. Another thing Lanthimos enjoys is presenting an automatic acceptance that this is just how things are. We do not question it and we do not argue. The notion of sacrificial trial, justice, and human nature is all challenged through Martin’s menacing proclamation. ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ looks to rattle us and it does a fine job at it. The first shot we see is a close up of an open heart surgery to the sound of jarring classical opera music. Be careful in choosing to see a film so unconventional and Earth-altering.

The gratification comes to us through its visual nightmare-like world. From slow pans to long wide shots, the minimalist cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis captures the rarity of the film entirely. Lanthimos completely throws us into this very dark and ethereal atmosphere. It can’t be measured just how much discomfort this film will make you feel. The soundtrack itself thickens tension and raises heart rates. Even the melody of the Christmas tune, “Carol of the Bells,” becomes something haunting when we remember what we’re sitting through. Accordionist Janne Rattya lends her horrifying “De Profundis” to the film, which sets the tone of no hope for Stephen’s family. With its devastating Greek tragedy theme, all the components of sound and visuals will meet in the middle where it pains us the most.

Sincerely noted, this film won’t pan too nicely to a lot of people. If you are a fan of psychological thrillers that stop at nothing to wreak havoc, this may be for you. Dark comedy makes a bigger occurrence in the film than one would think. We find ourselves laughing at something (that was probably meant to be taken very seriously in context) and then immediately feeling uneasy again. It’s quite a refreshment, honestly. It makes the film so distinct, just how we like it. If you’re alright with welcoming bizarre behavior, insane metaphors, and uneasy scripts, be my guest. We need more films that aren’t afraid to terrify us in such a way. Yorgos Lanthimos continues to prove himself as an uncanny heavyweight among directors and this film, as strange as it was, serves to break barriers.

‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ does not know forgiveness. It squeezes your senses until you can longer withstand the agony. It surprises you with its antics and decisions. It is heart-wrenching and will not stray away from you. It is certainly a sinister experience that won’t leave your thoughts even days after its viewing. You find yourself leaving the theater puzzled, disgusted, stunned, and most of all, unsettled to the core. Lanthimos gives us one of the most unnerving and masterful pieces of art in recent cinematic times.

Jessica’s Rating: 8.5 out of 10
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