The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017). Photo: Cursor Artificial Eye

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

"I don't know if what is happening is fair, but it's the only thing I can think of that's close to justice." - Martin

Director Yorgos Lanthimos has been churning out disturbingly wonderful movies for years. 2017's Killing of a Sacred Deer, starring Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman, is one of my faves. This thriller is a true creeper, a psychological horror film that features solid acting, crisp dialogue, and beautiful cinematography.

Colin Farrell plays Dr. Steven Murphy, a heart surgeon with a perfect wife, two beautiful kids, and a gorgeous house. His life is carefully structured, somewhat sterile, and curated to the nth degree. His family is polite and well-mannered, yet something is not quite right in this American dream home. They speak in concise, almost clipped sentences. Steven and his wife favor sex where she pretends to be under the effect of general anesthesia. Dr. Murphy lives in a strange world indeed.

Dr. Murphy has also befriended a young boy named Martin, the son of a patient who died on the operating table. They meet regularly for lunch, and Farrell gives him expensive gifts. He invites Martin to meet his wife Anne and his children, Bob and Kim. His daughter is quite taken with Martin, even though Martin is aloof to her.

Dr. Murphy introduces Martin to a colleague as a friend of his daughter's. However, it is clear that he isn't. Farrell's son suddenly develops a mysterious illness, a paralysis of the legs. They rush him to the hospital, yet tests show nothing medically wrong with him.

So, what the heck is going on here? Finally, everything is tied together as Martin declares that he is in control of the boy and Martin's entire family. He states that Martin's mistake during surgery caused his father's death - not the accident that brought him to the operating table. He demands that Martin sacrifice one of his children in repayment - or one of the kids will die from paralysis, and one will die from starvation and bleeding from the eyes. Martin mandates that Dr. Murphy kill one of his own children, or witness the death of both.

Farrell has the boy removed from the hospital by security. As the family falls under Martin's control, the family dynamic unravels. Kidman blames Farrell for being the cause of the torment. Dr. Murphy's daughter falls in love with Martin even as her legs become paralyzed.

The film's title relates to Euripides's Greek tragedy Iphigenia in Aulis, a similar tale of death and sacrifice. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is chilling, yet the film moves methodically. In trademark Lanthimos style, awkward silences intertwine with bizarre dialogue about random obsessions (body hair and blood, for instance). The sterile, perfectly framed cinematography is detached yet compelling. Lanthimos characters seem to be living in a surreal alternate world where the absurd and eventually horrible aspects of human nature are ready to explode at any moment.

The Killing of Sacred Deer is a freak show slow-burn of a horror film that is guaranteed to disturb you. While well-received at Cannes (it was a Palme D'or nominee), it did not receive the accolades of Lanthimo's previous film The Lobster or follow up The Favourite (10 Academy Award nominations), perhaps because it is missing their comic relief. The wry humor in those films gives the audience a chance to escape the horror and laugh for a second before heading back into the macabre.

Instead, the Killing of a Sacred Deer is a straightforward greek tragedy that plows right through this picture-perfect American family. Is Sacred Deer a bit of a downer? Definitely. Don't go into this movie looking for a fun-filled romp in the park. But this is undoubtedly masterful filmmaking on display, a flawless psycho-thriller that should stand the test of time. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a well-made piece of cinema that horror fans can savor without the usual blood-splattering genre cliches. (B+)

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Camp
Genres: Horror, Drama

Photo: Curzon Artificial Eye

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