The Killing of a Sacred Deer

the-killing-of-a-sacred-dee The Killing of a Sacred Deer  (2017)    A24/Drama-Thriller    RT: 121 minutes    Rated R (disturbing violent and sexual content, some graphic nudity, language)    Director: Yorgos Lanthimos    Screenplay: Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou    Music: Sarah Giles and Nick Payne (supervisors)    Cinematography: Thimios Bakatakis    Release date: November 3, 2017 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Camp.


 Movie critics must also deal with peer pressure. At least I’ve found this to be true. Many a time I’ve hesitated to give a movie a bad review because I know I’ll get you-know-what for it. There are certain movies out there you’re expected to like because everybody else does. I’m talking about the ones that receive unanimous acclaim from critics for their supposed artistic worth and/or deeper meanings. They also typically resonate with intelligent viewers who look down on anybody who dare suggest that it’s not as great as they think it is. All of this makes me stop and reconsider my position on the movie in question before I commit a single word to paper. Is it really that bad or did I miss the point? I really need to break this habit. I think I’ll start right now.

The-Killing-of-a-Sacred-Deer I really didn’t like The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the new film from Yorgos Lanthimos, the visionary director of last year’s dark absurdist rom-com The Lobster, a film I admired greatly because of its originality. I expected something similar from The Killing of a Sacred Deer, a dark psychological thriller modeled on the Greek tragedy Iphigenia in Aulis by Euripides. For those without a degree in world lit, that’s the one where King Agamemnon has to sacrifice his only daughter Iphigenia to appease the gods for the killing of a sacred deer (hence the title). The movie’s protagonist finds himself in a similar predicament.

 Steven Murphy (Farrell, The Lobster) is a brilliant surgeon who seemingly has it all. He has a beautiful wife, Anna (Kidman, The Beguiled), and two children, 15-year-old Kim (Cassidy, Tomorrowland) and younger brother Bob (Suljic). They live in one of those huge houses whose immaculate, sterile interiors suggest all is not right within its four walls. And it isn’t. They speak to each other in too formal a manner for family. Their expressionless faces are an emotional flatline. Sex consists of Anna lying motionless in bed (like she’s under general anesthesia) while Steven masturbates.  There’s no love in this house.

 Steven is presently mentoring a teenage boy named Martin (Keoghan, Dunkirk) who claims to want to be a cardiologist. At least that’s how their relationship initially appears. Something is off about Martin, very off. His strange behavior soon takes on a menacing tone. It looks like he wants to insinuate himself into Steven’s life. He even becomes romantically involved with Kim. Then one day, Bob wakes up unable to walk. The doctors at Steven’s hospital can’t find anything medically wrong with the boy. Martin comes to visit and that’s when he reveals his true motives to Steven. His father died while Steven was operating on him a few years back and he wants revenge. He tells Steven that he must kill a family member of his own choosing or else his entire family will die horrible deaths.

 It’s not that I don’t get The Killing of a Sacred Deer. On the contrary, I do. It all comes down to this: if you play God, there will be consequences. Surgeons notoriously have God complexes. Steven most definitely does. He’s conceited and arrogant. He needs to be put back in his place among the other mortals. Martin acts as God reigning down punishment on this sinful man. In case there’s any doubt about Martin’s role in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I refer you to the scene where he temporarily restores Kim’s ability to walk. The parallel to Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is all too obvious. Martin even gives Steven a chance to atone for his sins by inviting him to his “not so nice house” where his mother (Silverstone, Clueless) openly flirts with him while they watch Groundhog Day (another movie about a man dealing with an impossible, implausible situation). He gives Steven the option of living among the mortals in an ordinary world or returning to a life that’s about to become even unhappier. Like anyone with hubris, Steven makes the selfish choice.

 The Killing of a Sacred Deer has the cold, sterile and remote feeling of a Stanley Kubrick film. It’s populated by unlikable characters who don’t even register as real. They say wildly inappropriate things (“Our daughter has just started menstruating”) with scary deadpan calmness. They possess nothing that even remotely resembles human feelings. They’re like replicants from Blade Runner. Yet I’m expected to feel for them? How can I possibly care about characters that I’m not even sure are human? I don’t even like any of them. Steven is an arrogant jerk. Anna is a cold-hearted bitch. Martin is a psycho creep. Kim and Bob are entitled brats. The only one I cared about in The Killing of a Sacred Deer was the family dog who, thankfully, doesn’t meet a violent end. The actors play their roles like they were drugged before each day’s filming commenced. Was this was Lanthimos’ intention? If so, then the actors do a great job. It’s the second movie this year (after The Beguiled) to feature Farrell and Kidman as a couple. I hate to think how this pairing would play out in a rom-com.

 The movie’s only real point of interest is its visual aesthetic. Working again with Thimios Bakatakis (Dogtooth, The Lobster), Lanthimos has created a visually striking film. He has an eye for detail and composition. Like I said, it recalls Kubrick and his proclivity for clean, sterile rooms and emotionally detached worlds. It also has the claustrophobic feeling of a Roman Polanski thriller. This should make The Killing of a Sacred Deer a truly terrifying experience when you take into account the horrific events that occur. It’s not. It’s boring. It plods on and on. It’s like the director drugged the movie as well as the actors. It’s also unpleasant, VERY unpleasant. When it was finally over, I was speechless. I had no words. Like September’s WTF horror movie Mother, I wasn’t sure what I just witnessed. I’m writing this review three days after the fact. It took me that long to (1) muster up the courage to admit my dislike for it and (2) find the words to accurately convey this. I can’t believe all the good reviews this dull, pretentious movie is getting. I guess PT Barnum was right about a sucker being born every minute. 

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