Visionary director Yorgos Lathimos offers us another dive into the deep end of cinematic immersion, in his newest provocative piece ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’. Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a world renowned cardiovascular surgeon presiding over a spotless household with his ophthalmologist wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their two exemplary children, 12-year-old Bob (Sunny Suljic) and 14-year-old Kim (Raffey Cassidy). Lurking at the margins of his idyllic suburban existence is Martin (Barry Keoghan), a fatherless teen who Steven has covertly taken under his wing. As Martin begins insinuating himself into the family’s life in ever-more unsettling displays, the full scope of his intent becomes menacingly clear when he confronts Steven with a long-forgotten transgression that will shatter the Murphy family’s domestic bliss in a sinister game of revenge. ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ is rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content, some graphic nudity and adult language.
Lathimos as a director is someone who has no qualms about pushing the envelope into provocative material. In ‘The Lobster’, we received an honestly unapologetic depiction of the modern dating scene, and in ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ it appears that his focus this time shifts to the depiction of the medical profession and all of its loose ends that come with being the final step for many on their one way trips with death. Perhaps the one singularity that both of these films equally match is in the way they’re shaped as a genre in the attitudes that both movies possess. This is an area where Yorgos succeeds in ways that so many other directors just can’t even comprehend; the emphasis and articulation in tone that faithfully interpret the volume of emotional mass that this director values in teaching us. While the film certainly allows us many moments of intense laughter from the sheer absurdity of character responses, the film never strays far from being a fright first kind of deal. Because of such, ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ and Lathimos alike, does things with horror genre temperament and brash twisted humor that other more obvious students of the genre can’t accomplish, taking us through a dream-like environment where your worst nightmare can and often will come true. This film feels like a melting pot of ingredients that blend together to attain that intended taste, and when it comes to the chef that is stirring the pot, Lathimos highlights where each aspect blends well into accomplishing this feat.
Almost immediately, we are treated to some exceptional overall camera work that explores the unorthodox dissection of how we approach a scene. Lathimos continues his traditional signature shots that include continuous takes down the long corridors of a hospital, wide angle framing that colorfully illustrates the ideas and concepts that are being played over the heads of these characters, as well as depicting just how small they as people are to the everyday bigger picture, and of course the introduction to establishing shots that are done with such gentle precision. On the latter, I love how the camera softly takes the hand of the audience and guides it through each new environment that the screenplay takes us through. It constantly feels like we as guests are trying to sneak into what is going on without much disruption, and the bending around objects and walls to represent such a point treated me to a kind of theatrical engagement that was anything but bare, and proved that Lathimos sets the stage each time appropriately with a canvas that never lacks versatility in getting his points across for the mass volume of themes that the film takes on.
To that degree, the screenplay was one that does have some entertaining deficiencies, but overall strums through nearly two heart-pounding hours that constantly kept my attention. It’s clear that there is something much bigger being displayed at heart here, but to only summarize what I saw in one sitting is sheer madness. This is a film that does cast a lot of emphasis in its premise, but follows up with some exceptional storytelling that slowly unfurls each petal of valuable exposition carefully instead of it feeling like a free-falling storm. As screenwriters, Lathimos and partner Efthimis Filippou let you sample the environment before you revel in the details, and it’s a process that kept me engaged for the ridiculous actions and speech patterns that the film uses to relay that something truly terrible is at play within these friendly confines of characters. What problems that I did have might clear up with future re-watches, but do deserve to be mentioned for taking my grade down a couple of points. The first is that the film never truly explains how any of this threat is truly taking place. I’m sure there’s a bigger picture being hinted at here, but the film kind of requires you to take an illogical leap in logic to believing what is unraveling here, and I was never fully on board with it. Besides this, the third act is prolonged to frustrating levels. While it’s true that Lathimos is getting better about where to end his film, it still stands the case that his editing could still use some work, as many sequences are so needless and redundant that they often oversell the point that has already been driven home. While this doesn’t hurt the overall pacing for the film, I feel like the third act could’ve easily been the quickest in terms of minutes devoted to it, but it is the only true weakness against the first two acts that proved the value of strength in momentum that the film consistently built.
The musical score from composer Sofia Gubaidulina is riveting, strumming along some of the most entrancing notes that I have heard in the entire year of 180 films thus far. Not since 2014’s ‘It Follows’ has a musical score been so effective in not only setting the precedent of terror within each scene, but also in the volume of piercing release that constantly moved me. One negative to the latter is that it can sometimes intrude a little too much on the actors trying to play out each scene without that added manipulation, leading some dialogue exchanges to be rendered deaf because of such. The good news is that those scenes are only few and far between, as a majority of Sofia’s increasing beat of disturbia cashes in often on the true value of an unnerving musical score to not only the layering of chilling circumference that dominates each scene, but also feeding into the dream-like state of being that I mentioned earlier. Because of such, this feels like a world far from our own while monitoring the discontent with the medical practices that are every bit as prevalent in today’s rivalry between patient and practice.
This ensemble cast is mesmerizing, being led by Farrell and Kidman in their second collaboration of the year after ‘The Beguiled’. Lathimos definitely brings them along better than Coppola did, and because of such we are treated to the most versatile of monotonous deliveries that I have ever seen. That may sound like a back-handed compliment, but the approach to emoting these characters at underwhelming and almost un-human-like stances pays off in spades later on in the film when the stakes are the highest, forcing them to finally act logically like any of us rightfully would. Farrell talks fast, often diving into Murphy like an overly-confident routine that brings a life of no surprises. In Kidman, we get almost the total opposite. Because she is the first person to really see the severity of the situation, she attacks first and levels her respective screen time with a juggling of motherly instinct and cunning mental prowess to support her claim as the only logical protagonist to the film. Without a doubt though, the show-stealer for me was Barry Keoghan fresh off of the heels of ‘Dunkirk’ earlier this Summer. His grip on the pulse of a film is felt with much more impact here, as Keoghan transfixes the audience with a calm kind of madness that can only be compared to Anton Chigurh. You believe what Barry says because he drops it with such conviction, and as the gears start to turn to reveal his tortured past, you start to reason more with the method to his mayhem, playing Farrell and family like a game of chess that he’s already won seven moves prior.
THE VERDICT – ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ continues the hot streak of thought-provoking magnitude that often offers a modern day homage to the kinds of films Kubrick may have continued with. The third act is slightly faulty, often taking the sting out of the punch long after the most powerful connection, but with more attention to trimming the fat, I believe that Lathimos best film is still to come. For now, this film exerts a chilling grip that hypnotizes and tantalizes with a presentation that is second to none.