Movie Review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer

By Steven Slater

November 16, 2017

The Thinker

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They should have just called the film The Shining Part II. For many of you, those may be the only words you need to read to determine if you should see this film. No, this is in no way a direct sequel, and has nothing to do with Stephen King’s book or Stanley Kubrick’s film. But it feels as if director Yorgos Lanthimos had only ever seen that film, and determined that movies could only be made in the image of Kubrick’s classic. That may make this film feel a bit derivative, but no less effective as I watched it. I am positive this new film will not be considered a classic in the years to come, however there is some satisfaction in knowing independent films are carrying the mantle of artistic integrity as most blockbusters eschew risk in favor of pure commercial appeal.

The title refers to the Greek myth of Iphigenia, which I will not discuss for fear of spoilers, but know at the outset this film is meant as a parable. Indeed, I imagine most tales and fables were much darker before Disney changed their cultural meaning, and this film does go into dark recesses of humanity. As such, the story makes more emotional sense than logical. Colin Farrell plays Steven, a heart surgeon at a clean, fancy hospital, and Nicole Kidman is his wife Anna. They have two children, a younger boy and an older girl, and Steven has a strange relationship with another boy, Martin. At the outset, the whole film seems ridiculous in an unsettling way. Steven and Anna talk to each other in very wooden, matter-of-fact dialogue (she even seduces him by pretending to be a patient knocked out with anesthesia). The children behave as if their souls have been sucked out and they are mere vessels for words and actions. And then there is Martin, this weird teenager who needles his way further and further into Steven’s life without explanation. Martin becomes a sort of focus of the story, as we are always wondering who he is and what he has to do with Steven, especially as he continues pushing boundaries in creepy ways.


There is an explanation, about halfway through the film. It pulls things into sharper focus, and everything begins to make more sense. Again, think of The Shining; the first half of the film is unsettling, but it just sets up what is to come. The turning point is about halfway when Jack Torrance starts talking to Lloyd the bartender; then we know something is well and truly up. In Sacred Deer, everything is set up similarly; we are unsettled for the first half of the film, and then after the pivotal moment we really know something is up. Then the film is free to careen around these new truths, and force Steven into a position where he is capable of truly depraved things. But we do understand why, and that is part of the sick, twisted enjoyment one gets watching a parable of this sort unfold.

Being that I do love The Shining, The Killing of a Sacred Deer was a great film for me to watch. The mood is similar, the acting is similar in uncanny ways, the cinematography is sometimes remarkably similar. Lanthimos even uses musical cues as though they were lifted from Kubrick’s film. It may be a bit depressing to see a movie that plays with its characters like pawns, with cold and clinical logic. But perhaps at the end of the day that is the best way to judge a human character, with a bit of separation. Once we try and insert ourselves in a situation, we would not like considering that we might do some of the things the characters do in this film. Better we hold them at arm’s length, and consider them like gods watching earth from on high.

Slatergrade: A



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