The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★
As expected by those familiar with writers Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou, the former directing the picture, the film demands its viewers to squint through the fog of allegories and metaphors in order to ascertain what the material is possibly about. Or, perhaps more importantly, what it is saying about ourselves based on the deformed reflection of its characters, how they are treated, what ends up happening to them. For what it’s worth, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” may be frustrating to sit through at times, but I admired that it assumes the audiences are learned, cultured, and curious rather than ignorant, stupid, or incapable like numerous generic and unambitious works lean toward.
Those without or having only a limited knowledge of Greek mythology need not be dissuaded from taking a peek into the strange world offered here. Because despite the detached photography, cold interactions amongst characters, and schizoid manner of delivering lines of dialogue, there are enough pieces presented so that a casual viewer may get a feel of what the story is about. In my case, I thought it was about a man who has failed to take a moral responsibility in his career. And due to this failure, one he thought he got away with, it is demanded again that he take responsibility… but this time his home life becomes involved. Will he take responsibility now?
Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman play Steven and Anna, a cardiothoracic surgeon and ophthalmologist, respectively. It is interesting that while other works demand that the married couple evoke chemistry, it is the complete opposite here. They must not fit due to the bizarre language, both spoken and non-spoken, and the off-key rhythm of the material. It is almost as if we must feel as though the spouses are forced together in their palatial home filled with luxurious but empty decorations. Farrell and Kidman share no romantic chemistry and it is most appropriate. Notice when their characters are supposed to be at their most passionate. There are instances when when the fighting or having sex comes across as somewhat comedic, ludicrous. Strong emotions are expressed with a certain flatness.
There is a breakout performer in this strange but intriguing passion project and that is Barry Keoghan who plays Martin, the sixteen-year-old whose father had died on Steven’s operating table. Less perceptive performers might have played the character as overtly menacing. Keoghan decides to go on the opposite direction and downplays it. His seemingly innocuous physicality oozes an implied threat, a recurring pestilence. The rage of this character is found in those unforgiving eyes as he stares down the person that he believes to be at fault for him no longer having a father.
Drenched in idiosyncrasies, it goes without saying that “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is for select audiences only. In nearly every scene, there is an eccentric detail worth noticing. For instance, during Martin and Steven’s early interactions, it appears as though they are connecting because they are able to talk about the superficial details of their lives. But notice where the camera is placed. It is capturing the back of their heads. Or it is looking up at them from a lower angle, a technique often utilized in horror films before a jump scare. Those who choose to dive into this work should be open and prepared to take notice of details like these for an enriched experience. Do not bother otherwise.