The Killing of a Sacred Deer is stranger and more intense than any psychological thriller in recent memory.
The movie opens with the jarring, incredibly realistic, full-screen shot of a beating human heart during open heart surgery. Colin Farrell is the surgeon, Steven Murphy, and we soon see him meeting with a teenage boy, Martin (played by Barry Koeghan of Dunkirk). It seems to be a warm, mentoring type of relationship. But early on, Martin shows up unexpectedly at the hospital to see Steven, who is clearly uneasy. They bump into another doctor and Steven lies and says Martin is a friend of his daughter’s from school. We spend the first act of the movie wondering who this boy really is, why Steven extends such kindness to him, and what event in their past has brought them together.
Steven’s wife Anna (played by Nicole Kidman) is an opthamologist, and they have a happy, comfortable life with their two children. Steven invites Martin over to meet the family and have dinner. He is an awkward and unusual boy, but at times articulate, and you get the feeling, perhaps cunning. Martin returns the invitation, inviting Steven to his mom’s house for dinner. Alicia Silverstone has only one scene as Martin’s mother, but she is fantastic as the sad and desperate widow.
By this point, we have learned some details of their shared history, but it’s not until Martin lays it all out for Steven that we know everything that’s happened and what must now be done. I won’t go into the plot any further than to say this conversation sets into motion the chain of events that thrusts the movie firmly into the territory of psychological thriller.
The movie’s unusual title refers to a Greek myth, which I won’t explain because it so closely mirrors the plot.
Yargos Lanthimos is a director with a distinct style, and he makes some indelible choices here. Usually when you notice the score in a movie, it’s either because it’s very good or very bad. This score seems terrifying in and of itself, and it’s used perfectly, amplifying tension that has already been created by the action, rather than relying on the score to create the tension artificially as so many horror movies today do (A Quiet Place, for example).
It’s unusual that all characters deliver their dialogue in a way that is flat and detached. It sets a tone and shows these characters inhabit a common world, where extremely unusual things don’t sound all that unusual sometimes. It’s an artistic choice as deliberate as giving a horror movie a blue hue in color correction, but much more difficult to sustain with a cast of actors over the course of the whole movie.
Visually, there are several tracking shots through the white hallways of the hospital that reminded me of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but there are far more shots that leave an impression because they are so original. There is a long, overhead shot of Nicole Kidman and their young son Bob (Sunny Suljic) descending an escalator that builds tension better than any series of quick cuts and jump scares could have achieved.
Yargos Lanthimos is a master, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a dark and wonderful achievement.
|Title||The Killing of a Sacred Deer|
|Writers||Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou|
|Starring||Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan|
|Production||Film4, New Sparta Films|