The Killing of a Sacred Deer, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, is another surreal, unsettling, and at times disturbing film from the unconventional director. There’s something so alluring, yet at the same time distant about Lanthimos’ work. This film feels out of cadence with reality, which makes for something that pulls on your attention as something sinister and distressing slowly unfolds and becomes wholly tension inducing. You don’t know what’s going to happen but with how odd the film is, you know it’s going to be something bad. I’m really interested to review this film as it might be quite challenging. So let’s get to it.
Steven Murphy – played by Colin Farrell – attempts to bond and support, Martin – played by Barry Keoghan – whose father died during surgery and Steven was the surgeon who failed to save him. What begins as a friendly relationship – one that even sees Martin meeting Steven’s family – soon takes a turn, after both of Steven’s children, Kim – played by Raffey Cassidy – and Bob – played by Sunny Suljic – start exhibiting strange physical problems. Both Steven and his wife, Anna – played by Nicole Kidman – become desperate, after normal procedures fail and they will find themselves resorting to things that will change them as a family, forever.
Coming out of this film, it was one where I needed time to fully process it. There’s much to mull over and question. This isn’t a film that is upfront and clear. You will be questioning it throughout and still questioning it when it is finished. Much like, Yorgos Lanthimos’ previous work, you are given a film that throws more questions your way than answers. For some, that will be frustrating. I recall as the film ended and the credits began to roll, there was a person a few rows behind me who audibly exclaimed, “I’m confused. What the hell did we just watch.” Personally, I think that’s a fair statement to make. While I didn’t feel similar to how they felt, I still understand that this film will divide people and it will leave many people lost.
The very particular way in which the film approaches its very different story/characters will undoubtedly be a turn-off for some general cinema goers. The film in no way is conventional. I can’t really pinpoint a particular aspect of the film that is done in a way that might be familiar to a general movie consumer. And what strengthens this theory in my mind was experiencing the varied response to the film, while sitting in the cinema.
There were two very noticeable responses to, The Killing of a Sacred Deer: The first and most easy to notice was the section of the audience who would laugh at the film. The film is weird; it doesn’t play by the normal storytelling rules that people are used too. I think a subconscious reaction to something so outside of a person’s wheelhouse that seems weird, is to laugh at it. Almost like a defence mechanism against what they are seeing. Moments on-screen can seem comical but there is also a continuous dark, sinister feeling lurking in the background. That’s where the defence aspect comes in, I think. You don’t understand what you’re seeing, it’s weird, and laughing at it, while other people are laughing as well, can make you almost feel safe from it.
But the other way in which people responded to the film – the way in which I personally responded to the film as well – was an almost stunned, horrified silence. While others were laughing at what they didn’t understand. Others were watching on as the terror of everything was unfolding before them. On the surface, the film definitely comes off as strange – almost harmlessly strange. But if you look only a little bit deeper, if you look into the eyes of a character or fully consider the weight of a decision that a character must make, you realise just how dark and stomach turning the film is.
This is all just a theory I have, of course, but for me it made the experience of watching this film, all the more rewarding. Most films don’t divide audiences, they want to bring them together and create a unified, enjoyable experience (unless your film is mother! of course). But for me, it’s always more interesting when a film is able to attain reactions from an audience that are wildly different. That to me signals that a film isn’t playing it simple, it’s doing something different… something interesting.
But a film that does things differently, means that you will find many struggling to engage with, or enjoy the film. The Killing of a Sacred Deer, as I’ve mentioned already, is a weird, creepy experience that isn’t forthcoming with answers and while that can certainly be attention grabbing and make an audience want to learn more about it. The aspect that can begin to turn them away is how it paces itself. In this film, the pace is quite slow. It takes its time. It doesn’t solely direct its focus towards delving into its plot. It allows time for the atmosphere to build and evolve. It develops its characters but does so in its unique way, where dialogue is jarring, and interactions seem almost alien to the characters. Honestly, the film doesn’t make it easy. You can’t settle into your chair and let a fun, entertaining film wash over you. In a way, you have to work against the tide of the film, overcome it and then find its rhythm – abandoning yours in the process. Even I, who thoroughly enjoyed the film, found myself feeling fatigued in the latter half of it.
I don’t know of a better word to describe this film than unconventional. But despite how challenging the film can be, I don’t think that should stop you from seeing it. If you’re willing to give yourself over to the film just a little bit, you will discover the depths that the film has within it.
Let’s take the films characters/performances: So yes, like everything, there’s something odd about the characters. You’ll notice it almost immediately, when they begin to speak. The cadence of the dialogue, the unimpeded speed in which words fly back and forth, makes for an initially jarring introduction to how characters interact – that’s is, if you haven’t seen a Yorgos Lanthimos film before – if you have, then you should be able to find the rhythm of the film mush easier. But still, it can be surprising, and put you into an almost defensive like mode. You should hopefully adapt and then you can begin to explore the characters in the film, who surprise surprise, are strange… but fascinating.
I found them all to be instantly likeable people. There almost seemed to be a sweet naivety to them, that made them welcoming – however there was also a hint of something questionable, something that fed into the uneasy feeling that I had with the whole film. But in the beginning, it was mainly that I found them all to be pleasant people.
That of course didn’t remain that way for long as soon the logical part of my brain kicked in and I began to question everyone and everything – trusting nothing. There is always a feeling of unease that exists in the film. Many things create that feeling and one of them is the characters. Primarily, Martin (Barry Keoghan) who quite often controlled scenes. He is impossible to get a proper read on; thus, his intentions are murky. In his eyes, there is something dark, like he may snap at any moment and do something horrible. It certainly keeps things exciting.
And Keoghan’s performance is faultless. He is subdued in what he does, as much of what he does comes from his face and the way in which he says things. I remember one particular moment when he let out a laugh that sent a haunting chill coursing through me. He never breaks that creepy feeling and it only intensifies as the film goes on.
Counteracting him is the Murphy family, who seem like the quintessential American family. Which is perhaps one of the things that makes the film so creepy and unsettling. When bad things happen to people who seem pure in who they are, it feels unfair and it exacerbates what is happening, in the eyes of the watcher (the audience). With the events that unfold, they as people begin to devolve; Steven and Anna in particular. Their nice, happy exteriors begin to fade, and soon anger, violence and unthinkable acts consume them.
And Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell do all this brilliantly. It’s interesting to see two actors, whose careers didn’t seem to be in the healthiest of places a few years ago, and now they are both making great choices in terms of the film they’re in. It’s always nice to see such successful resurgences in actor’s careers.
From a narrative stand point, the film first grabs you with elements that you want to learn more about and then later on develops them into a plot that is extremely weird, but wholly fascinating. Decisions are put upon characters that are unthinkable, which leads to actions that are truly horrific. It was all so interesting to watch. And what I think elevated how interesting it was, is the atmosphere that the film forever had existing throughout it.
When watching this film, I kept getting a Kubrick vibe from it; the use of music, the general tone of scenes, the disturbing content. It all felt reminiscent of watching a Stanley Kubrick film – The Shining or A Clockwork Orange to be precise. Also, without the prominent atmosphere, I don’t think the film would have been as effective. When the score would overtake a scene, it would scream at you; unease you. It fully consumed my attention.
The film takes its many elements, offsets them from normality or convention and then slowly delivers a film that has you under its control. It will confuse some. It will turn others away, and it will take a hold of others. I personally was entranced by it… I was creeped out, but still entranced.
I’m going to recommend, The Killing of a Sacred Deer. This is in no way a film for everyone. If you are someone who has enjoyed, Yorgos Lanthimos’ previous work, then I think you’ll love what this film does. But if the things in my review or Lanthimos’ previous films aren’t for you, then I don’t foresee this being a film you enjoy. But give it a chance, you may be surprised.
I’d love to know what you thought of the film and my review, so please leave any opinions, feedback etc. in the comments section down below. If you liked what you read, may I suggest following both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. But I’ll finish up now by saying thank you and that I hope you have a great day!