The opening scene of Killing of a Sacred Deer has already been discussed in erm shall we say graphic detail, but that vitriolic language is so very warranted. It is quite literally gut churning in full pulsing, slightly pink glory. Did I say pulsing? Good, because I need you to experience it.
Killing of a Sacred Deer is the second film by Yorgos Lanthimos that works in the world of extreme metaphors and extreme situations. His previous work The Lobster was a dark, satirical comedy but Killing of a Sacred Deer is pitch black and bleak comedy. Lanthimos loves to examine the faults of humanity with a particularly dark outlook, and Killing of a Sacred Deer goes dark and the result is one of the most psychologically terrifying films that stays with you long after the screen fades to black.
Colin Farrell reunites with Lanthimos for the second time since Lobster as the bushy browed and bearded man of few words, Dr. Steven Murphy. He lives a life of privilege with his wife Anna (an as usual magnificent Nicole Kidman), his 15-year-old daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and preteen son Bob (Sunny Suljic). Dr. Murphy has an odd relationship with a 16-year-old boy Martin, played with mezmarizing, disturbing brilliance by Dunkirk’s Barry Keoghan. Martin is odd, that is something we can pick up immeadiately, but so is Steven. They are both direct and non sentimental, clinical if you will.
So something is off, but this is a Lanthimos film so I’m here for it, let’s proceed. Martin is invited over to the Murphy house for dinner and meets the rest of the family. Kim, in one of the most heartfelt and bare moments of the film sings to Martin acapella when they go for a walk. There is a spark romance for the teens, but that is as close to a semi-normal plotline this film goes. Bottomline: something is not quite right with either the Murphy’s or Martin. By how much? Oh you’ll find out.
It all starts when Steven blows off Martin and doesn’t meet at their designated diner. Then, seemingly by coincidence Bob (sidenote: the fact that their young son is named Bob is absolutely iconic.) can’t walk. He can’t eat, he is absolutley helpless and all the best doctors, including his own physician parents, cannot help him. Martin demands to speak to Steven. What results is one of the most interesting scenes in a movie full of memorable moments. Martin tells Dr. Murphy in a hurried, casual manner that his the next steps will happen in quick succession: one his family will have complete paralysis of the limbs, two they will refuse to eat, three they will bleed from the eyes, and ultimately four they will die. It is simple revenge he explains, with a blasé that is bewildering. Steven took his dad, so know he will have to choose to kill one person in his family or they will all die. His pure, beautiful hands that everyone in the film so admires will need to get blood on them, one way or another.
The result of this declaration begins the deterioration of Steven’s family and scientific world view as his world spirals out of his control. The script, in contrast, is very tight and straight forward. It is clinical and stark. Even when situations were dire, the family was speaking about banal things (like mashed potatoes for example) peppered with the bleakness of reality. That paired wonderfully with the score and other creative direction.
I don’t think I have ever seen a film that utilized silence so well. There was hardly any background music, and when there was it was instrumentals in cacophonous noises that were unnerving and intensified the movie, creating the sense of emotion in the film. When there weren’t any violent string chords, there was no score. If Anna was outside you only heard the birds. If Kim was singing you only heard her slightly flat vocal exercises, and most cringe-worthy –– when Martin was eating spaghetti you only heard his wet chewing and scraping fork. That audio was terrific and electrifying in its innate sparseness. There was nothing to distract you from the now, nothing to make you pull away from the dizzying blackness.
The performances that Lanthimos gets out of these actors is awesome. Farrell proves that he is wired for weird in the best possible way. His performance as the detached, yet emotionally tortured Dr. Murphy is captivating. And of course Kidman brings her brilliant deadpan to Anna. They both play distant so so well. The kids are also very impressive. You will definitely be seeing Cassidy in the future, her pleading, frenzied speeches to her dad about ending her life were horrifying, and yet I was hanging on to every word. Bob(!!) was heartbreaking and has Suljic has immense talent beyond his years. My heart broke in half when he dragged himself to the kitchen with his arms, his legs trailing after him, to cut his own hair to please his dad, the master of his fate. But the real performance of the movie was done by Keoghan. Martin is the very embodiment of a sociopath. His eyes are soulless. He speaks of killing a family in the same monolithic, monotonous tone that he uses to talk about his moms lemonade, no change. He is emotionless, even in moments of extreme pain, even in moments of self inflicted pain. The only emotion I saw was after one of the most dramatic, tense scenes in the film, and that glimpse of a real kid was fascinating. I want to go on the record now and say that Keoghan deserves recognition for his transformative turn as Martin, the all powerful being who demands the killing of a sacred deer.
Ultimately Killing of a Sacred Deer is a new take on horror. There is minimal blood, and gore. No jump-scares or shocks. It is visually and audibly auestere and antiseptic, no rich colors or saturation. The good Doctor is faced with the consequences of his own hubris, play God, but with your own family. The result of this revenge tale is a thrilling film that is darkly funny, fascinating, terrifying and ultimately heart wrenching. You have never seen anything like it. And it will be a long time, if ever, that you see anything like it again.