The Killing of a Sacred Deer - 2017
Director(s): Yorgos Lanthimos
Writer(s): Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou
Cinematography by: Thimios Bakatakis
Editor(s): Yorgos Mavropsaridis
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Alicia Silverstone, Colin Farrell and Barry Keoghan
Synopsis: A surgeon must make the ultimate sacrifice after a past event leads him to take a teenage boy under his wing.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is Yorgos Lanthimos’ follow-up to his 2016’s indie darling The Lobster. If you have never seen a Lanthimos film, then you won’t understand why it will be so hard for me to write this review. He tends to create a world around a “what if” concept - his 2011’s Alps was built around the “what if” concept of actors replacing recently deceased loved ones to help with the grieving process - but, by creating an entire world around a single “what if”, his movies tend to suffer from a bad landing. It seems like he doesn’t know how to write an ending that wraps up his concept neatly. This time around, while the world he created is slightly more straightforward, it’s still a world that I can’t explain without ruining the plot of the film. So, lets focus on the technical aspects of this unique movie.
Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou (his frequent co-writer) created a world filled with characters that feel robotic and unreal, yet their motivations are deeply human. They tend to deliver lines in a very specific characteristic that can very well be described Lanthimos-esque. If you play me an audio file of random conversations from movies, I’m confident I can single out one from his movies. Their lines are drenched in dry, dark humor that makes the audience uncomfortable in not knowing if they should laugh or feel disgusted by them. Another characteristic of a Lathimos’ script is the little-to-no backstory given to his characters. We mainly live in the now throughout the entire runtime. It’s as if we are accepting the events for what they are and not what they mean through past experiences.
Lanthimos and cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis’ (The Lobster and Dogtooth) use of the camera reminded me of Kubrick’s in The Shining. It felt as if the camera was either following the characters from the beginning or catching-up with them mid-scene. They gave the camera almost a spirit quality that made the audience feel as if they were voyeurs in the events unfolding in front of them. This reflects the feeling our protagonist feels since he is also playing catch-up to the tragedy falling upon his family. The shot composition was also deliberate as most of the scenes contain a lot of empty space above the characters. This in my eyes represented the heavy burden and decision they had hanging above their heads throughout the entire movie.
Quick note: the first act of this movie has zero to no score, but once a certain event occurs the score kicks in and it is gut wrenching. The amount of tension they produced just from the score is impressive. Very reminiscent of the effect produced by the score from The Shining.
The acting is superb all around. Collin Farrell plays Steven Murphy, a surgeon that is both precise in the words he speaks and with the people he interacts with. This makes the second collaboration between Farrell and Lanthimos - The Lobster being their first - and you can see how comfortable Farrell is in his director’s hands. His line delivery is on point and he kept his fear and tension as subtle as possible, making it even eerier for the audience watching him go through this ordeal. Nicole Kidman plays his wife and it’s just another notch on her 2017 belt proving she is one of the best actors working today. But the stand-out of this movie is Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk), who plays Martin, the teenager that turns Farrell’s world upside down. His performance was beyond his years as he played a character that managed to be both commanding yet submissive, engaging yet terrifying, and respectful yet insulting. There is a scene in where he is using an “analogy, a metaphor” to explain the situation to Farrell that is buried in my physique.
Quick note: while I have referenced Kubrick multiple times I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the tonal similarities between this film and Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. If you haven’t seen that one, do yourself a favor and do.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is another entry in the resume of one of the most unique filmmakers currently working in Hollywood today. This movie easily falls in the category of “to each his own”, meaning I can see anybody absolutely hating it and anybody calling it a masterpiece. Either way you fall in that conversation, you can’t deny that every Lanthimos, this one included, is truly an experience unlike any other. Lanthimos is why I love movie.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is currently playing in theaters. It’s a killer experience.
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