The Killing of a Sacred Deer




Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell worked together on two films in 2017 that screened in Cannes and both pictures were in competition for the Palme d’Or.  THE BEGUILED won the Best Director award for Sofia Coppola and the second film, THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER shared the Best Screenplay award.


The latter, THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER, is directed by the immensely quirky Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos who collaborated earlier with Colin Farrell in THE LOBSTER that received both Oscar and BAFTA nominations for Best Screenplay and won the Cannes Jury Prize in 2015.  (Anyone who saw THE LOBSTER and therefore has had exposure to the often profoundly idiosyncratic style of Lanthimos would have some idea what is in store with THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER.)


The title comes from the ending of the tragedy ‘Iphigenia in Aulis’, the last extant play by Euripides written before his death.  In Greek mythology, after Agamemnon killed a deer belonging to Artemis, the Goddess made him atone by sacrificing his daughter Iphigenia.

Set in present day America, Farrell is Steven Murphy, a skilled cardiologist who leads a successful and affluent life.  He resides in a vast and opulent home with his ophthalmologist wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and younger son Bob (Sunny Suljic).  Steven regularly meets up with a callow and troubled fatherless youth named Martin for reasons that are unclear.  Martin (Barry Geoghan) is unfailingly polite in their conversations but a whiff of menace lies under the non-committal words and he clearly has some form of hold over the surgeon.  Over time, Martin maneuvers his way into the picture-perfect but emotionally empty household impressing Kim and introducing his desperately needy mother (a rather good Alicia Silverstone) to Steven.


We soon learn what drives Martin, a relentless need for retribution and methodical revenge upon Steven that has a mythical element.  He demands that Steven perform an unthinkable act and should he refuse, his family will all die in a similar fashion.  First they will lose use of their legs, then experience self-induced starvation before finally bleeding from the eyes and expiring.


One day, Steven and his family are at a BBQ at his anaesthesiologist’s house and Martin calls Steven demanding he meet with him in a diner.  Steven refuses and next morning his son Bob is unable to get out of bed and cannot use his legs.  He is taken to hospital where despite expert neurological tests, nothing physiologically wrong can be detected.  Soon Kim collapses and joins her brother in the same ward where both refuse food.  When Anna is also suddenly stricken, Steven knows he must take action.


Lanthimos in interviews stressed that this is primarily ‘a comedy’ but it is jet black comedy in tone.  While admittedly, certainly in the first half, there is the trademark deadpan humor, the film moves swiftly into macabre and unsettling horror.  The screeching violins and harsh sound orchestration combine with the creepy cinematography of Thimios Baratakis to create an expertly crafted voyage into nightmare.  I suspect that (like all Lanthimos works) this will be wildly polarizing.  A venomously mirthful piece of absurdism made with adept sadistic finesse.


The cast are uniformly strong in their roles, right on point to handle this unusual movie that ratchets up the tension by infinitesimal but inexorable degrees.  Kidman especially equals her best work with her subtly nuanced performance of Anna whose restraint under extreme duress is signaled flawlessly by the merest of facial gestures.


This confrontingly disturbing chiller for the art house crowd is not for everyone.  Many will find that they are in uncomfortable mental territory after viewing this, but without doubt, Lanthimos devotees will salivate in awe.







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