- Product Rating -

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

| November 7, 2017

People bring to movies what they already know—that much is true. However, that’s largely the case when the movie in question is more of a mirror than a portal, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer lay much more in the latter category. When a movie begins with a slow zoom-out of a pulsating chest in the midst of open-heart surgery, it’s immediately clear that the writer/director does not care so much about the viewer’s reaction, because the viewer’s reaction will eventually cease. Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest is psychological horror at its most stripped-down, a heart-pounding slow burn full of Kubrickian style that strings itself about with dark humor to compliment its utter nihilism. It’s a bit too long, but the faces of its characters are even longer, and in that way, it’s a perverse and affecting experience.

Steven (Colin Farrell) is a surgeon who lives with his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), son Bob (Sunny Suljic), and daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy). Kim is classmates with 16-year-old Martin (Barry Keoghan), a boy whose father recently died and has come under the wing of Steven in the months following the loss. As Martin and Kim become closer, he begins to insinuate himself deeper and deeper into Steven’s person life, slowly affecting those around him as the boy’s ulterior motives begin to bubble up to the surface.

While Lanthimos has flexed his dryly comically muscles in the past, The Killing of a Sacred Deer shows more of his approach to dreamlike filmmaking in which time bends around the audience and the settings of the characters seem to engulf them whole. In a film that may possibly not include a single static shot, he weaves a tale that is dark at its core but clothed in fittingly superficial humor, often giving the experience a satirical edge. The locations of it all, most of which are within the protagonist’s McMansion and the hospital where he works, are both sprawling thanks to the camera movement and overwhelming due to the framing.

Lanthimos and cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis shoot the characters with an aggressive amount of empty space over their heads, giving the passive décor like bedposts, porticos, and trees to assert dominance over anyone in the shot. The situations are quite literally being over their heads, but always within the sight of the audience. Hip-height tracking shots create a constant imbalance between filmmaker and viewer, and slow zooming shots make idyllic surroundings into aimless vortexes. The two hypnotize the audience to lead them to the slaughter in the most graceful of ways, a pair of humans holding a piece of cheese that ultimately leads to the toasty, firm hug of a rat trap against your neck.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer contains the deadpan humor that Lanthimos is known for—every single interaction between characters is stilted and many of them operate on a level of gallows humor. The depiction of suburban life with such a detached and amoral perspective paints the characters’ lives in varyingly satirical shades, and the manner by which people act are like neighbors who are stunningly unaware of the effects they have on others. Or maybe they do know, but they just don’t know how to show that they care.

Despite the numerous Kubrick comparisons that have already been made here and will inevitably be made elsewhere, Lanthimos’s work differs from that in that it cannot be read as hopeful or positive. Yes, Jack Torrence was always the caretaker and in that way, he will never die, nor will his wife and son. Bill and Alice Harford may have a thoroughly flawed marriage, but it manages to survive nonetheless. Humanism is not Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou’s forte here, nor is absurdism. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is utter nihilism in that it is not depressing; it is not degrading; it is not angry. It simply is. That’s not to say that emotions are void—they are what fuel the hearts to rattle with discomfort, in the bodies of the characters onscreen and in the bodies the viewers watching them. Everything is just a tipping scale, wavering back and forth.

About the Author:

Senior year film student at Columbia College Chicago, Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener, and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".
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