ReelBob: ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ ★★½
By Bob Bloom
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is a disturbing and chilling experience, akin to a mash-up of a Greek tragedy and an Old Testament sacrificial parable.
The movie reunites actor Colin Farrell and director Yorgus Lanthimos, who collaborated on last year’s critically acclaimed “The Lobster.”
Their latest movie is a very stylized feature that keeps you uncomfortable from the outset.
Everything feels out of step, even to the formalized, awkward and monotone dialogue spoken by the cast. Yet, everything is part of Lanthimos’ design as he and co-writer Efthimis Filippou (who also co-authored “The Lobster” with Lanthimos), weave an ominous tapestry about revenge and responsibility.
Farrell’s Dr. Stephen Murphy is a renowned cardiovascular surgeon. To outsiders, it seems he has the perfect life. His wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman) is an ophthalmologist who runs her own clinic. Their children, Bob, 12, and Kim, 14, do well in school and have friends.
But behind closed doors, the Murphy household appears cold and regimented, including Stephen and Anna’s sex life, which appears as clinical as their professions.
Their façade of idyllic existence begins to crumble with the introduction of Martin into their lives. He is a teen-ager who Stephen has secretly taken under his wing.
A couple of years earlier, Stephen performed a routine procedure on Martin’s father, who died on the operating table.
Stephen takes no responsibility, claiming a surgeon is never responsible for a patient’s death.
But Martin, who is more creepy than sinister, begins to slowly coerce Stephen into including him in the family’s life.
Soon, Bob, then Kim, become ill, losing their ability to walk and losing their appetites. After they have been hospitalized, neither Stephen, Anna nor any other doctors find any cause for their illness.
Then, Martin drops a bombshell that turns Stephen’s world on its end. It involves his children and a possible cure.
Just recall the Old Testament story of God’s demand on Abraham.
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” lacks the depth and societal and religious perceptions of “The Lobster.”
Plus, Lanthimos uses a heavy-handed approach, diluting any suspense that the director is trying to build. Yes, the film exudes tension, but it feels forced.
Lanthimos’ decision to have his actors speak in stilted manners also works against him. If he is trying to have them sound like ancient Grecian performers railing at fate in an amphitheater, the idea falls flat.
It keeps you from building any emotional connection with the actors and their predicaments.
The film is a psychological nightmare that is heightened by Barry Keoghan’s Martin, a polite, soft-spoken yet ominous performance as an avenging angel who seeks redress for a transgression that destroyed his family.
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is a dense and cerebral movie that works very hard to answer its moral questions. It only partially succeeds because it remains distant and cold.
Lanthimos’ movie needed more fire, brimstone, passion and righteous anger.
I am a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. My reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). I also review Blu-rays and DVDs. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Links to my reviews can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.
THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER
2½ stars out of 4
(R), disturbing images and violence, sexual content, nudity, language