‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ Has Dark Delights (Movie Review)

I find it fascinating when a filmmaker uses their very deliberate style and applies it to all of their films. Yorgos Lanthimos has found great acclaim in a few of his previous films (The Lobster, Dogtooth), which relies on a sense of detachment on the part of the actors to make the premise work. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is no different. This is a film that functions as a psychological horror film, but due to the nature of the characters and how Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou scripts their dialogue, a strange sense of humor is also layered over the film. The results are a finely crafted thriller with plenty of idiosyncratic qualities.

Colin Farrell stars as Steven Murphy, a respected heart surgeon. He lives a seemingly idyllic life with his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and his two children, Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic). They all live in a big house and are complete, utterly open with each other. There is another matter, however, and it concerns Martin (Barry Keoghan). As the film begins, we learn Steven has been meeting with this teenage boy for a little while, and they have polite conversations over lunches. Martin soon ramps up his time spent with Steven, eventually bringing the family into it as well. While the nature of Martin’s relationship is held back for a while, it does become clear that he has sinister intentions for the Murphy family.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is another film that is difficult to explicitly delve into without revealing too much of the surprises in store for audiences. Suffice it to say, as I had only so much knowledge going in, it certainly benefits to be somewhat fresh on the premise. However, it does stand to reason to be aware that the film has a focus on punishment, revenge and challenging the familial bond. There may not be major twists in the story to focus on, but the sudden turns in the plot do signal to me that Lanthimos is getting a lot out of messing with expectations in disturbing ways.

As opposed to The Lobster, The Killing of the Sacred Deer does not have as flashy of a story. Still, one can see how the Greek filmmaker continues to grow as a director. Whether or not it is intentional, looking at Lanthimos’ films, one can see the influence of Stanley Kubrick here. Thanks to the very deliberate pacing, the use of steady tracking shots, long takes, and classical music, it becomes apparent that Lanthimos is drawing straight from a filmmaker also well-known for off-putting characters and drawn-out scenarios.

Stylistically, these choices may make the film feel too precious for some and that’s fair. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is the epitome of arthouse horror films in many ways. That said, I couldn’t help but be engaged by the mystery and different turn of events. A morbid story is unfolding in front of audiences here, but obviously you want to understand how these central relationships formed and where it’s going. There’s also the nature of these characters, which is aided by a tremendous cast.

Farrell is excellent in this film, once again committing to the oddities of a character written for him by Lanthimos. He speaks in a manner that could appear stilted in one glance and with plenty of intensity at another. Kidman matches him as well, slowly unraveling from her position as a confident matriarch as the threat to her family grows and faith in her husband dwindles.

Keoghan is the character to remember, as he has such an alien presence that it will even make his polar opposite character from Dunkirk seem hard to sympathize with. Making him all the more memorable is his handling of the dialogue, which pronounces him as a disturbing character, but is handled in a way that makes him a somewhat humorous individual, along with the rest of the cast. There is a collection of oddball characters here, which includes a small role played by Alicia Silverstone, who seems to have grasped onto a chance to be in this weird arthouse film.

The humor that emerges comes from the social awkwardness of the characters. Every cast member may be approaching the material in the same heightened sense, but the film’s reliance on messing with the minds of these characters has them addressing their normalcy with words spoken in an almost robotic manner. It helps in seeing the horror come through, as these odd people are challenged by something they can’t understand and the emotions revealed mean seeing effective transformations as the film goes on.

While odd and deliberate, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is impeccably made when considering the level of detail applied to every shot. It also has a committed cast who fall right in line with Lanthimos’ very pronounced dialogue rhythms. For a genre that’s always been rife with creative talent, here’s a film that seeks to unnerve, yet present characters startled in the most mannered of ways. It’s an intriguing portrayal, undoubtedly strange, but hard to resist in the realm of arthouse cinema.

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