FILM REVIEW: "The Killing Of A Sacred Deer" Is Handsomely Crafted & Deeply Strange
The Killing of a Sacred Deer repulses and enthrals, sometimes at the same time. Throughout this psycho-thriller from Yorgos Lanthimos, it's as if an impish maestro is playing your emotions like a violin. And the mathematically perfect precision of its aesthetics – the meticulous, antiseptic set-design, the deliberately stilted acting style – is the struck match to its dry humour rather than a showoff-y display from a master craftsman. It's a unique alchemy that produces a strange sort of cinematic heat; it is only in The Killing of a Sacred Deer that a sick child being repeatedly dropped by a frustrated parent is as hilarious as it is despairing.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer centres on a successful, emotionally distant heart surgeon Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), who forms a strangely close relationship with oddball teenager Martin (Barry Keoghan). To give you an idea of how odd their relationship is, it's deliberately unclear if they're related or if they're lovers. He invites Martin to his home to meet his wife (Nicole Kidman) and two kids (Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic). And Martin invites him over to meet his newly-widowed and needy mother (Alicia Silverstone). These interactions seem perfectly cordial to the point of being alien, but the ear-splitting strings on the soundtrack and the cinematography that creeps and lurks like a voyeur hint that everything is not all right.
Sure enough, everything is pretty damn far from alright. The Killing of a Sacred Deer slowly morphs from a satire on repressed suburbia into a squeamish horror story when Martin tonelessly announces that he will exact his vengeance on the heart surgeon for accidentally killing his father on the operating table some years back. It's blood-for-blood revenge: Both of Steven's children are poisoned, and he must pick one to execute – or they'll both die.
Every actor strikes a unique note. No easy thing, when on paper they're all equally unnerving, discussing body functions and body hair with unreal frankness. But it's Martin, as played by Barry Keoghan, who's the standout here, authentically dorky as hell and truly unfeeling. He carries out his meticulously plotted revenge without so much as a sneer or smirk.
Although this flick exudes an unmistakable wrongness with every centimetre of its celluloid, Lanthimos reveals himself to be an old-fashioned moralist at heart: blood begets more blood, and the dance of arrogance and revenge achieves little but circling all down the drain, even though we may sympathise with the particulars of each wounded person's suffering. A message as old as time. However, it's the clinical framing of the violence, it's the unexpected bursts of cruel humour during its most wretched moments, that make you wonder whether you're watching a straightforward morality tale or nihilistic art-house film disguised as a morality tale. I often veered between being appalled and amused. I was both at once during its dreadful climax. Terrific.