Film Review – The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
Coming off of his idiosyncratic film, The Lobster, writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos is back with another critically renowned movie, The Killing of a Sacred Deer. After a limited theatrical release, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is primed for an Oscar run of some kind with the help of A24. The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Yorgos Lanthimos
Written By: Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou
Dr. Steven Murphy (Farrell) is a renowned surgeon with a seemingly perfect family. He has an exemplary wife Anna (Kidman) and two lovely children that are pretty perfect. In the midst of this perfection comes Martin, a fatherless teen that Dr. Murphy has taken under his wing. Upon being ingratiated by the family, Martin’s sinister intentions begin to come apparent as he confronts Dr. Murphy with a forgotten misdeed that slowly begins to shatter his once perfect family.
In his short career, Yorgos Lanthimos has already proven himself as a great and suitably quirky writer. Although he worked on a few smaller projects before it, The Lobster was certainly Lanthimos’ breakout hit. The eccentric story earned Lanthimos an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay back in 2016, firmly putting him on the map as a name to watch out for in Hollywood. With The Killing of a Sacred Deer, many are already pointing towards another writing nomination as awards season kicks into high gear.
It appears as if Hollywood is starting to notice Lanthimos’ talent as he is beginning to work with stars more than once. The Killing of a Sacred marks the second time that Colin Farrell has worked with Lanthimos. One reporter brought up this fact to Farrell in an interview, leaving Farrell to explain the following:
“In the 20 years I’ve been doing this, I can’t think of any director who’s more singular, more identifiable by what they do and how they do it than Yorgos is.”
For a director that has only made a few English language films, quotes such as this one point towards a long career in Hollywood.
Finely Tuned Dialogue That is Unnerving at Every Turn
As with The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos has created a manner in which actors deliver his dialogue that is unlike any other. Everyone in The Killing of a Sacred Deer is very robotic and calm. The actors do not show much emotion whatsoever, responding to bizarre realizations and circumstances as if it’s an everyday routine. To many, this style will frustrate and possibly even bore. But, it adds up to the unbelievably unsettling nature of the events in the film.
Everything about The Killing of a Sacred Deer is too clean. From succinct, on-the-nose speech patterns to spotless houses and hospital rooms, the film reaches a level of uneasiness from hardly any movement at all. All the characters act rationally and compassionately (for the most part), yet their lack of vocal empathy creates a disconnect for the audience. It forces you as the viewer to do all the emotional work, making you more likely to squirm in your seat as characters bluntly speak of private matters without the slightest inkling of feeling appalled.
This style leads to some of the most dark comedy you’ll find in a film in 2017. You’ll be amazed at some of the things that characters say to each other. The Killing of a Sacred Deer runs the gamut of emotions, but all of it comes from the viewer rather than the actors on the screen.
Impeccable Performances That Require a Lot of Trust in the Director
With this bizarre change in speech progression is a clear understanding between the actors and Yorgos Lanthimos. Acting in this manner takes serious guts. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is anything but a mainstream film. Most people will watch this movie and claim the actors to appear wooden. However, these distinct performances are in service of a higher purpose: to unsettle the hell out of everyone who watches it.
Barry Keoghan deserves a serious amount of praise for this very reason. His character is the most enigmatic of them all, acting totally strange but with the politeness and vernacular of a person that would seem very pleasant to a person that reads it on a piece of paper. His performance is one that could have easily gone wrong. He has to handle being mentally unstable while delivering depraved dialogue in a very polite and mechanical way. He certainly deserves awards consideration, offering one of the most singular performances of the year. In fact, the entire cast is outstanding.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is Purposely Ambiguous
As I alluded to previously, The Killing of the Sacred Deer is not for everyone. Yorgos Lanthimos has kept the meaning of the film entirely ambiguous, even to the actors in the film. But, what makes this movie different from other films that are based in metaphor is that it lacks a feel of pretentiousness and unnecessary mystery that other films of this nature include in their narrative.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer‘s plot is very simple on the surface. It’s a straight-forward revenge story that a teenager carries out. You can understand and become fulfilled by watching the film without thinking much of it. The Killing of a Sacred Deer contains enough peculiar elements wrapped in a wholly original atmosphere to accomplish this feat. But, when you begin to peel back the layers of the story is when the ambiguity comes to light. The central idea of revenge comes from a force that can’t really be explained with one definitive argument. It’ll leave everyone questioning and debating each other. In this way, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is wicked fun.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is never going to appeal to a mainstream audience, and it’s certainly going to frustrate many people to boot. But, the film is deeply unsettling from the first image, becoming more disturbing by the second as its robotic cadence unnerves in its precision. Yorgos Lanthimos has established a singular voice as a creative mind in a time where the needle is shifting in the other direction. The Killing of a Sacred Deer will only get discussed more in time as people discover all it has to offer. Not many will agree on what exactly they just watched, but everyone can contend that it is completely distinct from anything else.
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