Yorgos Lanthimos is a filmmaker never has been known to mince words in his films. He’s a bold, daring filmmaker that works his ass off to make sure that he can push the boundary as much as possible in his films. His first big hit, “Dogtooth,” was a strangely disturbing family drama that could scar unsuspecting viewers, his first major mainstream success, “The Lobster,” assembled an all-star cast in a quirky, original dark comedy that managed to snag him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. His newest piece, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” seeks to tackle the prospect of horror through the gaze of domestic life of a wealthy family. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” isn’t a horror film in the traditional sense, but from all accounts, the world Lanthimos has seemingly crafted within “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is as horrific as they come in the sheer ordinariness of its setting. Nothing about “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” stands out, and it’s that inconspicuousness that could lead the way for some of the most horrific horror.
Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a well-liked surgeon living in Cincinnati. He seemingly has the perfect life, with a perfect wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman), two perfect children, Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic), the perfect home, etc. His mentorship relationship with socially awkward Martin (Barry Keoghan) is a strangely close friendship that Martin seems to take more seriously than Steven. They hold a bond in that Steven was the overseeing doctor that took care of Martin’s father at the time of his death. As time goes on, and his relationship with Martin begins to get more tense, including an incredibly strange encounter with his mother (Alicia Silverstone), Steven begins to realize his perfect life might come into jeopardy the more he sticks around Martin.
Here’s the thing with “The Killing of a Sacred Deer:” it’s dark, strange and unique, but it’s so nihilistic and distant from the audience watching it that it’s incredibly difficult to find any sort of relatability to it beside of an occasional reaction to a visceral act of disturbing behavior that pervades the film and ends up losing its effect come the film’s end. The film ramps up the weirdness and the darkness as it goes through, but there’s never a moment in the film where I feel like there’s a real moment of danger that the characters couldn’t get out of themselves if they were only to act sensibly.
But let’s give credit where credit is due, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is meant to provoke, and provoke it does. It’s a tough film to watch, and however emotionally distant one might find themselves from the film, it’s hard to deny the balls that went into creating a film on Lanthimos’ part. Not many filmmakers have the guts to do some of the things, both visually and thematically, he does here. It’s a daring and bold film, even if the final effect does end up tepid.
The issue with the performances in this film isn’t because of the actors, but in the ways Lanthimos’ screenplay is written leaves the performances feeling stilted and strangely inorgangic to the darkly serious film at hand. The way in which Lanthimos’ writing functions works well in something like “The Lobster,” where the delivery of the lines in such a way give for the comedic timing that worked so well in the film. In “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” the writing style gives way to make the film feel out of place and almost comical, even though the film goes into some truly dreadful territory. It’s an issue that the film hits early on and never finds itself to redemption at any point later.
Shot by Thimios Bakatakis, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is an attractively shot, if incredibly uneasy film that looks the part of the game it plays. It’s nothing special per se, but it is an on brand look for a film that works surprisingly well. Unlike the disparities between the writing of “The Lobster” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” the looks transfer over quite well. “The Lobster” was a decidedly darkly-shot film for a comedy, while “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is a lightly-shot film for such horrific material at hand. Bakatakis doesn’t have to change much to reach a happy medium between the two tones that surprisingly merge well.
But the single biggest issue with “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is that no one seems human enough to care. Everyone feels so strangely inorganic and out-there, as well as unlikable that makes it hard to illicit any sort of concern for the ordeal that the family ends up facing in the end. It ends up feeling much more empty than something less “quirky” could get out of the final product.
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is a distant, strange, unengaging, if entirely unique and daring film that is as viscerally challenging as it is weirdly hollow. It’s an admirable effort on Lanthimos’ chart and for some, a visceral challenge is enough to call something like this a masterpiece, but without any real substance to the horrific drama, there isn’t much to marvel over beyond the occasional bit of shock value that Lanthimos can do well. From there, it’s simply too bad that the characters are so inhuman and oddly unlikable that makes connecting with the film so incredibly difficult, even when it comes down to the nitty-gritty in the third act that, for as disturbingly daring, feels empty in final execution. It’s nowhere near the worst thing I’ve seen this year, nor is it even close to anything I’ll remember come 2017’s end. I’m not sure if there was one thing or another about “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” that was incredibly good or egregiously bad, it’s just…there. It’s an admirable filler film for Oscar season, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is indeed a filler film.
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Camp.
Runtime: 120 minutes
Rating: R for disturbing violent and sexual content, some graphic nudity and language.
Now playing exclusively at the Regal Manor Twin.
An A24 release, Film4 and New Sparta Films present, in association with HanWay Films, with the participation of Bord Scannán na hÉireann/The Irish Film Board, an Element Pictures production, in association with Limp, a film by Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”