Synopsis – Steven, a charismatic surgeon, is forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice after his life starts to fall apart, when the behavior of a teenage boy he has taken under his wing turns sinister.
My Take – If an award for the most bizarre and interesting film would have been given out in 2015, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos‘s film The Lobster would without a doubt walk away with the trophy. Receiving admiration & appreciation, director Yorgos Lanthimos‘s film definitely took everyone by surprise for its unique audacity. Personally I believe quite a lot about the film really worked, from Colin Farrell‘s dead delivery to underlying themes to the creative and completely absurd nature of storytelling. Two years later he is back, re-teaming with his co-writer Efthymis Filippou & lead star Colin Farrell, for his second English language film about revenge and consequences, that has been in news ever since it made its strong (albeit polarizing) debut at the Sundance Film Festival. While I agree the film is not as perfect and strong as The Lobster, it’s hard not to accept how audacious, well-made and twisted this film especially considering how it makes itself hard to categorize in a particular genre. Instead of using the dark humor of his previous film, here, director Lanthimos opts for a type of gut-wrenching psychological horror we have not previously witnessed on screen. Filled with an overarching, all-consuming darkness that lingers even after it’s over, this film is a truly unique and deeply affecting film that’s definitely worth watching, especially if you appreciate a good storytelling.
The story follows Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), a powerful and renowned heart surgeon, who lives a perfect life with his beautiful wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman), an ophthalmologist, and two kids, a 15-year-old daughter, Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and younger son, Bob (Sunny Suljic). Outside, Steven also shares a mentoring relationship with Martin (Barry Keoghan), a soft-spoken teenager, who also happens to be the son of a man who died on his operating table a few years ago. Somewhere guilty about the incident, Steven invites Martin into his family who quickly befriends his children and takes a liking towards his wife. However, Steven’s apparent solid life begins to deteriorate as Martin begins to show his true intentions of having a completely different agenda in mind, something which will completely throw the Murphy family’s life into a world of chaos and dilemmas. As you can tell, the plot is fairly absurd, rivaling itself with that of The Lobster. The film has everything what a film in a psychological horror genre needs to have: a constant growing tension, interesting story that actually makes sense, a great terrifying, horrific, brutal and violent scenes that are related to the storytelling, the philosophy and moral behind the film, etc. The film has symbolism, metaphor and reference with the Greek mythology and some of the Greek tragedies. Make no mistake, this film is definitely not for everyone. But for discerning audiences who can appreciate the unique chills that director Yorgos Lanthimos can send down your spine through a pitch-black psychological horror/drama, this film will do the trick. Yes, this is a strange film, at times, it cannot be classed as a black comedy, or an art house film nor a proper horror, there are scenes reminiscent of director Stanley Kubrick with its long shots and chilling music, but it also contains director Lanthimos deadpan delivery. Director Yorgos Lanthimos isn’t just an idiosyncratic art-house director with a wild hair for film-school suspense, no this guy is a cinematic mad scientist who takes all things familiar and makes them wholly unfamiliar by breaking everything down to the bare essentials. If the characters’ inhuman mannerisms, conversations, and actions aren’t unsettling enough, the film also delivers enough on-screen gross outs to hammer home a truly affecting experience. The film is objectively well-shot, and delivers a capable, if slightly subdued plot, while building to a frightening conclusion. It’s not a horror film sort of frightening either, but more of a, “I can’t believe I’m about to watch this” feeling. The goal here is not just to make the viewer uncomfortable, but director Lanthimos wants us downright miserable from the tension. From the opening shot of open heart surgery being performed, we are pulled into a surreal and dark world inhabited by strange characters. What makes the film most entertaining aside from the mystery, which is the main aspect, is the way the characters act. Their conversations are emotionless, blunt, superficial and surprisingly hilarious. I found myself laughing many times at how absurd and hilarious what Colin Farrell was saying (with a straight face) was. Now, this is by no means a comedy. It’s a suspenseful psychological thriller that sometimes has a comedic tone.
As you can imagine, it’s hard to juggle two tones that are so different, but I thought it was extremely well done. The film also leaves you with a dilemma, do you care enough of the characters to want to watch the film? Yes and no, but do you want to see what happens in the end? Of course you do. Beyond the psycho-revenge plot lies a story of survival and atonement, making for an excruciatingly unsettling time in the theatre. We feel the vice tightening on us as the tone shifts from uncertain awkwardness to dark sinister intentions. Director Lanthimos and his regular cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis are in perfect sync with the various harsh angles (high and low spiked with screeching violins) and the necessary tight shots to emphasize the uneasiness and confusion of the characters. The film wears its tone not only on its sleeve, but also on its chest, face, and everywhere else. From the haunting score that seems to creep its way into every scene, to the awkward and robotic characters, to the downright scary Martin, the film feels ‘off.’ We’ve seen this “seemingly perfect upper- class family has a darkness that tears them apart” type story before, but never so viscerally displayed as it is here. Much of this film is left in ambiguity and up for interpretation, which is part of the reason why I’m not revealing much of the plot at all as I just don’t have the answers. But when a film captures the perfect tone and mood, especially in horror, the events tend to speak for themselves and you don’t need things to be explained to get what the director wanted you to feel. Sure, the running time for the film is quite long which stunts some of the plot development and pads but it doesn’t detract too much from the film. Also, like in The Lobster, the characters here are related to absurdism. All of them are unemotional, artificial, cold-blooded, monotone and strange, but with a dose of realism. Normally, in those situations, characters would panic, constantly cry and scream, but they don’t, which is why, at the end of the film, you’ll get this terrifying and shocking feeling. Thankfully the cast are perfectly suited for finding the flawed, ugly and human parts to their off-putting characters. We all know by now that Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman are fantastic actors but this film for me shows them playing extremely different characters to what we have come accustom to from both of them. Both are absolutely brilliant from start to finish but are both just very strange, one minute they can be “normal” and caring for their kids and doing day to day things, then the next minute there character will act or say something that just doesn’t fit right. This is how the film lures the audience in by carefully placing odd things here and there to grow the suspicion and mystery of the entire story. The kids played by Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic with great effort managed to hold their own among this excellent performers. Alicia Silverstone is also quite memorable in her one scene as Martin’s mother. However, the real standout here is Barry Keoghan who manages to be truly bizarre, weird, creepy and strange. His malevolence is scary not only because of his forceful actions but because there’s nonchalance in everything he does. There’s a void where his empathy and moral compass should be. So to compensate, he adapts a sense of justice where extreme measures are regular and they’re seemingly the most human thing about him. Keoghan‘s abrasive performance alone is definitely worth the watch for horror fans, film fans and those already familiar with director Lanthimos‘s unique approach to storytelling. On the whole, ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ is a well-shot, adeptly acted, intensely written, strange and haunting film that is without a doubt unsettling and unforgettable.
Directed – Yorgos Lanthimos
Rated – R
Run Time – 121 minutes