The Killing Of A Sacred Deer
Reviewed by Kristy Puchko
Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos has raised eyebrows and sunk hearts with his heralded drama Dogtooth and his Colin Farrell-fronted dark comedy The Lobster. Now he reteams with Farrell for The Killing of A Sacred Deer, an enigmatic bit of slow burn horror that boasts a streak of pitch-black humor. Not nearly as accessible or silly as The Lobster, it’s nonetheless breathlessly daring and unnerving.
Hidden with a bit of pudge and a thick salt and pepper beard, Farrell stars as Steven Murphy, a family man and cardiologist who is carrying on a curious series of surreptitious meetings with a teen boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan). As the pair chat over apple pie at a diner, there’s an unspoken tension. With gifts, compliments and attention, Steven aims to appease the boy for some mysterious transgression, and Martin accepts all that’s offered, earnestly and gratefully. But he wants more. The mystery behind whom Martin is to Steven is at the core of a terrible secret that will rip the doctor’s happy home life to bloody ribbons. And if you think you know what that secret is, you’re underestimating Lanthimos.
The Murphy clan begins this story over a family dinner, having a placid but pleasant conversation about parties and haircuts. Theirs is an enviable life of little conflict. They have a big, beautiful home. Their daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) is a blossoming young woman whose drawing praise in her school’s choir. Their son Bob (Sunny Suljic) is a spirited young boy, whose rebellious streak means slouching during dinner, and daring to wear hair to his shoulders. And Steven’s loving wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) is an eye doctor who gladly cares for her clinic, home, kids, and house plants, while still making time for the sexual kinks her husband favors. Notably, it’s a kink that proves painfully ironic as the film progresses.
Methodically paced, The Killing of A Sacred Deer peels back layers of revelations and raw human emotions to expose an ugly injustice that demands a terrible retribution.
It’s a rare thing for a critic to get to see a film knowing very little about its plot. But that was part of the unique thrill I experienced viewing The Killing of A Sacred Deer. And because the trailer for the film has likewise kept its central story vague, I reject unfurling it here. Apologies if the ambiguities annoy. But reading spoilers would only rob you of a distinctly chilling and darkly amusing cinematic experience that lures audiences into an unsafe space where taboo theoreticals become gruesome reality.
Colin Farrell & Barry Keoghan
Methodically paced, The Killing of A Sacred Deer peels back layers of revelations and raw human emotions to expose an ugly injustice that demands a terrible retribution. This forces Steven and Anna into an impossible decision, and the growing doom is sounded with the beating of drums. Lanthimos’s cast makes pronouncements of rage, love, and swallowing sorrow, but with muted performances and dedicatedly monotone delivery. The effect is both amusing and unsettling. It allows us to laugh at pronouncements that feel hollow without the ragged emotion behind them. But exposed is how little our feelings matter in the grand scheme of the world. So why bother with those emotions at all? Instead Farrell, Kidman, Keoghan, Suljic and Cassidy gives us eyes haunted and wrathful, but their voices work with an exhaustion that makes all of this exertion feel futile and doomed. Leave it to Lanthimos to make world-shattering family trauma grimly comical.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer makes its US Premiere at Fantastic Fest. A limited release will follow on October 27th.
Kristy Puchko (@KristyPuchko) is a New York-based film critic and entertainment journalist, her work has appeared in Vanity Fair, IndieWire, Nerdist, and Pajiba (to name a few). She’s a co-host for the Sirius XM show It’s Erik Nagel, and has taught a course on film criticism at FIT. To see more of her work, visit DecadentCriminals.com