Review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos has created his own unique, otherworldly universe, one where seemingly normal conversations between seemingly normal human beings feel off, and interspersed between are moments of wanton violence and painfully awkward sex. The Killing of a Sacred Deer continues this tradition, as Lanthimos continues to analyze societal constructs.
In Dogtooth, the from-birth structures we all abide by are ripped apart; in The Lobster, the sacred dance of monogamous love is lampooned. The Killing of a Sacred Deer deals with the deified profession of surgery, and the struggle of man versus faith, as it twists the Old Testament fable knife into its lead doctor, played by Colin Farrell.
Steven (Farrell) is a heart surgeon whose befriends the Barry (Barry Keoghan), the son of a patient of his who he lost on the operating table. The relationship is incredibly odd at first. Why exactly is Steven hanging out with this teenager? Why is he giving him gifts and inviting him over for dinner with his family? Well, it turns out there’s a layer of guilt there, as Steven feels some responsibility over the loss of Barry’s father. But, the awkwardness doesn’t fade away as Barry becomes way too clingy and tries to set up his widowed mother (Alicia Silverstone) with Steven. These interactions play on common courtesy rules; Silverstone in particular—incredible in the small role she’s in—drifts from welcoming host to desperately trying to get into Steven’s pants in no time flat.
Then, the Cable Guy dynamic between Barry and Steven comes to a head when Steven’s family is inflicted with a mystery illness. Steven’s son, Bob (Sunny Suljic), and daughter, Kim (Raffey Cassidy), lose the use of their legs and are unable to eat; Steven and his wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman), race to find answers and a cure, and it turns out Barry is the key to the horror that unfolds.
The twists and turns keep you on your toes—your stomach turns at just how far Steven and Anna go to help their children. Steven is the quasi-alpha male who is all powerful as a surgeon, yet becomes a cowering mess through the course of the film, thanks to his past proclivities. The Killing of a Sacred Deer opens on an operating table, with a chest clamped open—we see a heart actively pumping, serving as a reminder of mankind’s prowess and vulnerability. Science and medicine may save you for so long, but something other reminds you that you’re nothing but flesh and bone. There’s a mystery of the unknown running through the film; Lanthimos takes cues from Kubrick as he hypnotically moves his camera through long corridors and builds scenes with an uncaring god perspective. There’s a harrowing shot of Bob collapsing to the floor in a hospital with the camera dangling high overhead as we watch these ants burn under a magnifying glass.
Unsurprisingly, Killing of a Sacred Deer is absolutely hilarious. Farrell’s performs absurd lines with the same deadpan, dark humor cadence as The Lobster. Here’s hoping this Lanthimos-Farrell relationship continues because they know exactly how to get the best out of each other. Kidman continues her streak of fearless performances here as the wife who placates to her husband’s needs, both as mother and as a part of Steven’s sexual kinks. Lanthimos and cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis know exactly how to shoot one of the best faces in Hollywood—in a scene in which she confronts Bobby, the camera is focused just on her, as a wordless, soft close-up does more in character development than what most actors do in full leading roles. The kid actors playing siblings, Suljic and Cassidy, give off a Dogtooth vibe as they callously accept the cruel torment that fall on them. The MVP of the film, though, is Barry Keoghan, who appeared earlier this year as the hapless George in Dunkirk. Keoghan, on a physical level, is unnerving as Barry; he barrels through the dialogue, which rangers from innocently inquisitive to absolutely sinister, with sweaty dedication. On a surface-level, yes, he's there to make you feel queasy, but underneath that is a kid who you kind of, sort of, have a bit of compassion for.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is another stellar film from Lanthimos. It’ll have you laughing at its assured absurdity and it’ll have you bracing through its final blistering moments. Its message once the credits roll is hard to shake, too—in the battle between science and faith, mankind and the mysterious, it all becomes a cosmic joke in the end.