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The Killing of a Sacred Deer: A Review


Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 17 seconds

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : SEE IT. See it in the theatre but be forewarnedTHIS IS AN ART HOUSE FILM THROUGH AND THROUGHif your tastes run toward the more conventional, skip this movie because you will hate it. 

The Killing of a Sacred Deer, written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, is the story of Dr. Steven Murphy and his family as they grapple with a strange young man who has come into their life. The film stars Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman along with Barry Keoghan, Raffy Cassidy and Sunny Suljic in supporting roles. 

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is Yorgos Lanthimos’ follow up to his extraordinary film The Lobster, which was a brilliantly absurdist and dark comedy from 2016. Unlike The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, although it has funny moments, cannot in any way be described as a comedy, it is more a stylized mythological and psychological horror/drama. 

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is, like The Lobster, unquestionably an art house film and to those more inclined toward standard Hollywood fare it will seem impossibly avant-garde. I absolutely loved The Lobster (it garnered 6 nominations and one win in 2016 at the most prestigious cinema awards on the planet…The Mickey©® Awards…and ended up #4 on my top ten list for the year), but I know other people who hated it with a passion. I find Lanthimos' writing and directing style to be very original and tremendously effective, while others I know found it contrived and idiotic. 

The narrative of the film is very loosely based on a modern day re-telling of the Greek myth of Iphigenia, in order to not give anything away I won't go into detail about the myth of Iphigenia, and if you plan on seeing the film I recommend you skip reading up on it as well until after seeing the movie. The film also contains biblical references and metaphors ranging from the Garden of Eden to Cain and Abel to Abraham to the plagues of Egypt all the way up to the crucifixion. The film is also riddled with intriguingly meaningful symbols including watches (time and things going clockwise or counter-clockwise), pristine hands, dog walking and watering plants and even the Bill Murray movie Groundhog's Day. The film and its symbolism tell both a personal and collective story of karmic justice that contains a very subtle political and cultural message if you care to look for it (for instance, look at the film's poster at the very top of this posting…the curtained window of the room looks an awful lot like the World Trade Center…I have a definite opinion on the subject, but I will let the viewer determine what that may mean for themselves).

Yorgos Lanthimos has a distinct style to his direction of actors where he has them speak in an awkward, stilted and lifeless monotone. This acting style can be off-putting to some people, but Lanthimos deftly uses this approach as a commentary on the modern world and also uses it to encourage the audience to suspend their disbelief and embrace Lanthimos' created universe that is at once both very believable and entirely impossible. 

Colin Farrell has found a career renaissance working with Lanthimos (he won the incredibly prestigious Best Actor Mickey®© Award last year for The Lobster) and part of the reason for this is that he has mastered Lanthimos' unorthodox, uncommon, and almost inhuman, acting style. Farrell is an actor who was born blessed with a raging furnace of frenetic energy that emanates from his every pore on-screen. Most actors would kill to have what comes naturally to Colin Farrell. But what makes Farrell so good in Lanthimos' films is that he is forced to contain that signature frenetic energy to such a degree that it could dance on the head of a pin. This energetic concentration and containment allows Farrell to never have to contemplate whether he is being charming, good-looking, charismatic or funny, instead it allows him to just mechanically say the words he is supposed to say and mechanically move where he is supposed to move. Some actors, Colin Farrell included, find the blessing of their charisma and magnetism to be an artistic curse and so when those chains are removed, as they are in Lanthimos' unique acting style, the actor is then free to simply BE…and when Colin Farrell is simply "being", he is truly remarkable. 

What makes Farrell's performance in The Killing of a Sacred Deer so effective, is that his Dr. Murphy is dead-eyed and monotone going through the motions of his life…until he isn't. There are rare moments when the fire in Farrell's eyes returns and he is so filled with a palpable life energy that he literally shakes. The unleashing of Colin Farrell's natural power in those few moments are what make his performance, and Lanthimos' direction, so sublime. 

Much to my pleasant surprise, Nicole Kidman takes to Lanthimos' style with ease as well. The reason I was surprised by Ms. Kidman's adaptability to Lanthimos' style is that, similar to Colin Farrell and his natural frenetic energy, Nicole Kidman naturally emanates with a fragile, yet palpable humanity. In The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Kidman is able to contain her powerful but delicate humanity and embrace the stylized lifelessness of Lanthimos' approach. Kidman's performance is striking for its precision and meticulousness. Again, just like Farrell, there are specific moments when her humanity explodes through her lifeless veneer, and those moments are extremely dramatically satisfying and speak volumes to Kidman's skill and mastery of craft as an actress.

The supporting cast is stellar as well with Barry Keoghan in particular giving a stand out performance. Keoghan is creepy and compelling as a mysterious young man who starts at the periphery of the story but soon becomes its center. Keoghan's performance is seductive, menacing, magnetic and unnerving. The first time I saw Keoghan was this past summer in Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, and after seeing his attention to detail and specificity in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I look forward to seeing what lies ahead for him in his career. 

Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Siljic also do outstanding work in supporting roles as the Murphy children. Cassidy, in particular, does a solid job of creating a specific and multi-dimensional character where other actresses would have embraced the generic.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer, just like The Lobster, is not a film for everyone. I am someone who reeks of the art house, so it was right up my alley. Others with less adventuresome and more conventional cinematic tastes will probably dislike it a great deal. I believe that Lanthimos is a a true auteur  creating original and important films that are cinematically, if not revolutionary, then at least evolutionary. 

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is an admittedly weird, but fascinating and ultimately satisfying film that I wholly recommend to those daring enough and willing to make the leap into the deep, dark waters of the art house. If you love cinema, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is for you, and it is well worth spending the time and money to go see it in the theatre.