The Killing of a Sacred Deer / Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
I’d like to say I was ready for Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos’ follow-up to international breakthrough The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
I’d like to.
As I got comfortable and turned on the film, I was under the impression that I’d already been subjected to enough insane plot twists and psychological head games that have been so popular in recent films to know what this movie had in store.
Fortunately, Lanthimos’ style is a little more idiosyncratic, his characters a little deeper, than what I’d prepared for. A mother (Nicole Kidman), father (Colin Farrell) and two children (Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic) are dripping with guilt. A tormenter (Barry Keoghan) is wracked with grief, waiting to commit some of the most horrific forms of revenge I’ve ever witnessed on-screen. It wasn’t perfect, but as flawed as any person going through such torment might be.
The action is savage, and to make it even more terrifying, Thimios Bakatakis’ cinematography gives the world a dreamy and lingering stillness, slowly following the characters throughout the film like a specter. This, combined with Lanthimos’ trademark awkward and stilted direction of performance, makes the audience uncomfortable right from the start, locking us into watching characters in their own personal prisons for almost inappropriate amounts of time. We feel like voyeuristic perverts, but the film couldn’t care less and goes out of its way to build unsightly spectacles comfortably and ordinarily mundane tasks uncomfortably. Lanthimos plays with our perception and our ideology in shockingly simple ways.
Newcomer Keoghan, who had a good year between this and Dunkirk, delivers a performance on par with Farrell’s. The two are the stars of the show and play off each other amazingly well in the name of tension. Farrel’s Stephen tries to maintain a level of closeness with Martin out of guilt, but knows that if he gets too close it will ruin his and his family’s lives. Unfortunately, Martin gets so close that Stephen has no choice. In the beginning Martin is just seen as a dorky-outcast type, but Stephen’s secrecy only leads his wife Anna (Kidman) to dig deeper into their mentor-disciple relationship. As the investigation continues, the relationship strains so much that it reaches up and grabs hold of Stephen’s family. Martin is no dork, but a holder of many facades, and Sacred Deer escalates to such a point where seeing him on-screen is akin to Michael Myers in Halloween. Like Myers does, Martin cycles through each member of the family, pressing their buttons like a kid holding a god-like gameboy.
This movie is not for everyone. It bubbles and boils underneath the surface in such a curious way that it begs an unusual amount of patience to appreciate the payoff. Watching an idyllic everyday family implode in on itself is a difficult thing to watch, especially as it is executed by a child, a child who has no family and no regard for human suffering.