Review: THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER
I saw The Killing of a Sacred Deer and I'll never be the same again.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the most recent film by director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Lobster) was a cinematic experience unlike anything I have ever experienced before. The film follows the seemingly boring, repetitious lives of Doctor Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), their two children, Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic), and a strange young man named Martin (Barry Keoghan), with whom Steven has a rather unorthodox relationship with. As the story unfolds, we find that there is a dark history at the root of Steven and Martin’s relationship and that the somewhat sweet, extremely awkward Martin has some maliciously vengeful intentions for Steven and his family.
This quiet, methodical film bursts out of the gates with a visceral, close up shot of open heart surgery, making the audience endure it for what feels like eternity, and then turns a blind eye, acting as though your sight wasn’t just assaulted, and cuts to a shot of two men, doctors, walking down the sterile-white halls of a hospital, engaging in absolutely mundane conversation regarding their wristwatches. Immediately, I knew I was in for a film unlike anything I had ever seen before. From the humdrum nature of the seemingly black-and-white characters to the exaggerated usage of space in every shot, Lanthimos has crafted a world of careful, calculated dread that keeps the tension building with every passing second.
I am hesitant to say too much more about this film, as it, much like Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, mother! (in my opinion) is best experienced with little to no prior knowledge about the film at all. About halfway through The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I had absolutely no idea where the story was headed, but I knew it couldn’t be anywhere good and I was wholly invested in every step of the way. Upon initial viewing, I recognized The Killing of a Sacred Deer to be among the darkest of comedies. Amidst some terrifying and bleak circumstances, a piece of ultra-melodramatic, hyper-tense action would take place that made me so desperately uncomfortable, I felt my only capable response was to laugh. Then, a scene bulging with dead air and too much empty space would abruptly fill the screen and I was hit with an existential dread not unlike that which is invoked while reading the horrors of H.P. Lovecraft.
When the film finally reaches the sinister end that is slowly, quietly, carefully creeping towards us from the beginning, I was left with an austere emptiness and an intense fear that can only be described as the same kind of terror we felt when we were very young, tip-toeing into the darkest room of the house in the middle of the night, unsure and unknowing of what kind of horrors existed in the inky blackness of night.
Only one week has passed since I watched The Killing of a Sacred Deer and it has burrowed its way into my mind, latched on, and isn’t letting go. Each performance is incredible and unique, Colin Farrell’s especially is unlike anything I have ever seen before, deeply disturbing and unnerving. Nicole Kidman also delivers one for the books and her performance in Sacred Deer may be my favorite of hers to date. The cast’s youngest members; Sunny Suljic, Raffey Cassidy, and Barry Keoghan don’t disappoint either, acting boldly alongside veterans Farrell and Kidman; Barry Keoghan as Martin is one of the most unsettling performances I have ever seen.
In addition to the outstanding cast and tight, solid script (co-written by Efthymis Filippou, who co-writes with Lanthimos regularly), the film features some of the most classy cinematography I’ve seen this year. Cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis fills the film with crisp shots, perfectly lit and flawlessly framed, providing a beautiful and ominous atmosphere that aids in the building of tension and overwhelming sense of dread that grows heavier with every passing scene. Lanthimos’ usage of space is overwhelming and effective, with the widest of wide angles, and long, drawn-out pullbacks that make it impossible to look away. In just about every scene, there is almost always too much space above, below, or otherwise surrounding the characters and central action. All of this, set to a score featuring a variety of classical, ominous tunes makes for a viewing experience unlike anything I’ve seen in the last decade. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is more unsettling than mother! and more psychologically terrifying than Get Out; it is simultaneously the most hilarious and terrifying film I have ever seen and it has crept its way into my mind and onto my top films of the year list.