The 400-Word Review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer
By Sean Collier
November 8, 2017
The Killing of a Sacred Deer, a psychological horror film from director Yorgos Lanthimos, spends an hour building to the moment when the plot of the film is finally revealed.
It’s a shocking, stunning revelation, delivered dispassionately in the middle of a string of dialogue. (Obviously, I’m not going to share too many specifics.) Everything about the film up to that point is a build to that moment of clarity; by this, I don’t simply mean the plot builds to that moment. The film seems designed to accentuate that reveal in every way, including the odd, dispassionate dialogue; even the casting choices are an act of misdirection.
It’s enormously effective.
Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), a tense surgeon, has an unnaturally close relationship with precocious teenager Martin (Barry Keoghan), the son of one of Steven’s former patients. Home is a mid-century suburban idyll, or at least the imitation of one; wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) is dutifull and doting, elder child Kim (Raffey Cassidy) is a textbook blend of ambition and rebellion and youngest Bob (Sunny Suljic) is central-casting adorable.
Martin’s intentions begin to appear sinister, despite an impossibly polite exterior; bits of the true nature of all of the characters begin to emerge before the pivotal moment at the film’s halfway point.
To say anything of the story that follows would certainly be too revealing; I’ll call it the most gripping hour of filmmaking I’ve seen thus far this year and leave it at that.
Where Lanthimos’ 2016 film, The Lobster, faltered in its back half, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is tailor-made to build to its conclusion. The director/screenwriter seems to have a fascination with honest behavior in extraordinary circumstances; in both this year’s film and last, he seeks to answer a what-would-you-do-if question, even if everything that follows the “if” is patently absurd.
Kidman and Farrell are quite good, with buckets of restraint breaking at perfect moments. The most fraught and nerve-wracking dynamic sits between Keoghan (who is having something of a breakout year, at least to American audiences, after Dunkirk) and Cassidy (who was a bright spot in the messy Tomorrowland), whose scenes are perfectly uncomfortable.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is undoubtedly a movie that will put many viewers off; stylistically bizarre and textually dark, this is no light trip to the cinema. For lovers of the offbeat, though, there’s plenty to be found.
My Rating: 9/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark