Killing of a Sacred Deer review Colin Farrell Barry KeoghanYear: 2017
Director(s): Yorgos Lanthimos
Writer(s): Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou
Region of Origin: US

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: n/a
35mm, Color, 121 mins

Synopsis: A charismatic surgeon, is forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice after his life starts to fall apart. (Source)

In its most fundamental form, fear is rooted in something we can’t understand, control or classify. Through this metre, imagine an inexplicable illness attacking the ones you love most. This abject horror is the crux of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer. In just a short time, Lanthimos has carved a niche by creating films that thrive through nebulous precision. I know that may sound like a contradiction, but also the only way to describe Lanthimos’ brand of atmospheric, oft-times absurd terror. Because of its inexplicable nature, Sacred Deer is a revenge film like nothing you’ve ever seen before. And just like the malicious character at its center, its power comes from something we can’t explain or deny, rendering us vulnerable toward its indiscriminate attack.

On the outset, Steven (Colin Farrell) seems to have it all. He’s a successful heart surgeon with an equally successful ophthalmologist wife named Anna (Nicole Kidman), and has two children, Bob (Sunny Suljic) and Kim (Raffey Cassidy). Steven has a secret, however, a tenuous friendship with a younger boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan). We soon find out that Martin’s father was an ex-patient of Steven’s who died during a procedure. It seems that Steven is trying to atone in some way, going as far to introduce Martin to his family, but the latter wants more. When it becomes clear that Martin can’t be satiated, Steven cuts all ties. Soon, Bob and Kim are afflicted with an unknown illness, paralyzed and unable to eat. Somehow, Martin holds a strange power over Steven’s family, inflicting his spiteful will in an act of vengeance unless its patriarch agrees to kill one of his own. Powerless in the face of unyielding torment, Steven and Anna risk it all in order to get their family back.

Operating in the vaguest of ways, Lanthimos’ film is sheer psychological torture, making its power primal and inescapable. For most of its runtime, Lanthimos’ story is an enigma, allowing things to unfold at a measured pace as we sit at the edge of our seats. Since it’s hard to grasp the entirety of what’s happening, we’re left to grapple with the feeling of what it’s like to lose a loved one, slowly, and as we helplessly stand by. What’s clear, is that Lanthimos is operating in very intimate and personal terms. There’s some pitch black humor sprinkled throughout, but for the most part, the director has taken the gloves off and is targeting our deepest fears about loss. Along the way, there’s a fascinating dissection of power dynamics, both from within a crumbling family unit and the outside force that has come to tear it apart. The film’s tension only ratchets up as things grow more desperate, and each scene sets the stage for a damning portrait of loss, revenge and the mind numbing brutality of it all.

Killing of a Sacred Deer review Colin Farrell Nicole KidmanLike any Lanthimos film, the performances follow a trademarked style, with terse dialogue delivered in deadpan monotone. Farrell plays a character who’s helpless in the face of a problem he can’t quite understand, but still manages to lend a humanity to the story’s intangible themes. Kidman’s Anna is a pure knockout. As the family matriarch, Kidman gives Anna the power to go further than Steven, off-times pushing him into action and proactively pushing things forward. Kidman is a powerhouse that rattles foundations. Keoghan’s malevolent Martin is striking as well, giving us a villain who can’t be quantified. His is a mundane evil, someone who preys on insecurity as much as he does hope, and Keoghan is magnetic, delivering fear with calm, steady conviction. In addition, Suljic and Cassidy are great as Steven and Anna’s afflicted children, dealing with psychological struggles which add to their physical ailments. Last but not least, Alicia Silverstone makes a short appearance, but it’s a funny, eerie one that sticks out that I won’t spoil.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a rare beast. It’s a horror film that keeps its seemingly supernatural elements hidden, focusing instead on its human destruction to deliver a story with an elusive purpose. We understand that lives hang in the balance, but the film isn’t concerned with answering any questions we have about the conflict’s origin or scope. Instead, Lanthimos’ film is a new breed of quiet chaos, an affront to an audience looking for meaning and purpose, and a defiant evil that’s unstoppable. When considered through this lens, Lanthimos’ latest is a bold work of art that explores the greatest pain we can ever experience – losing a loved one and having absolutely no power to stop it.

SG