Synopsis: A teenager’s attempts to bring a brilliant surgeon into his dysfunctional family takes an unexpected turn.
Stars: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Alicia Silverstone, Raffey Cassidy, Bill Camp
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Running Length: 121 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: We’re moving into a busy time for movies and that means a packed screening schedule. On these plum-full days this part-time critic has to get creative with his multi-tasking if doesn’t want to go hungry between movies. That’s how I found myself unwrapping and justa bout to sink my teeth into a sandwich when Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer began. Lanthimos opens the film with a graphic (and real) shot of open heart surgery, his camera lovingly lingering on the organ coming back to life and pulsing with blood. It’s an arresting image and one that pretty much demands your attention, as does the rest of the movie. Clearly, my sandwich was going to have to wait.
Surgeon Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell, Saving Mr. Banks) has it all. A successful career, a beautiful house, a loving wife (Nicole Kidman, Stoker), and two children that haven’t yet met their trouble-making days. He’s also taken a young boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan, Dunkirk) under his wing for reasons not entirely clear as the movie begins. All we can tell is that Murphy obviously feels paternal toward the boy, a boy that has a strange way about him. Actually, everyone in Lanthimos’s parable on suburbia and privilege has a strange way about them. Murphy and his wife play out some kinky fantasy with her lying prone on the bed as if under general anesthesia, their daughter (Raffey Cassidy, Tomorrowland) is on the cusp of womanhood and awkwardly makes her first steps into her femininity with Martin as her fellow traveler, and Murphy and his wife speak about family matters in public with little regard for privacy. There’s a staid, robotic-like quality to the line delivery and it’s not unintentional in the slightest.
For the first half of the movie we’re just getting our feet wet with these people and trying to figure out why Martin’s actions feel so odd and what his game plan could be. When it’s revealed why he’s getting so close to Murphy and his family the movie almost instantly gets a bit less interesting in plot but not necessarily in character. Martin makes a proposition, an impossible request, to Murphy and the rest of the movie is about how Murphy chooses to respond. One by one Murphy’s family members start to come down with a mysterious, near-supernatural illness that Martin seems to have control over…or is the other way around? Lanthimos and his co-writer Efthymis Filippou leave audiences with little concrete answers and we’re never quite sure who the man (or woman) behind the curtain is.
While the plot tends towards the formulaic in its skeleton, it’s the sinews of muscle and tissue that the cast brings to this that make it one that has nagged at me almost daily since I saw it. The movie can be seen as a twisted take on suburban perfection and personal responsibility or as an outright Fatal Attraction-like potboiler where no one is a winner by the time the credits roll. Having worked with Lanthimos on his previous film (the equally mind-bending The Lobster), Farrell is aces as a flawed man asked to take action no father or husband should ever be tasked with and Kidman continues her streak of finding the deepest complexities in a seemingly straight-forward role. Keoghan is a bundle of nerves and energy, presenting a character obviously on some sort of spectrum that feels just in his actions so has no fear of judgement. That frees him to express himself openly and unfiltered, a refreshing presentation to be sure but unsettling all the same in our current climate of niceties above all else. Alicia Silverstone (Clueless) has a brief but memorable scene as Martin’s mother, grieving the loss of her husband (whom Murphy operated on) and following her son’s lead on a plan to unite the two families in his twisted imagination.
As you’ve probably guessed, The Killing of a Sacred Deer isn’t easy viewing and the ending is sure to prove problematic. Lanthimos doesn’t let anyone off easy and that includes the viewer. Still, it’s a handsomely made, eerie film and even when you know where it’s headed it still has one or two twists to keep you alert. Darker than The Lobster but just as interested in social norms and providing commentary on justice, The Killing of a Sacred Deer might not be the hunt you thought you’d be going on but it’s worth the journey.