Yorgos Lanthimos’ signature surrealist style shines through in this compelling and thought-evoking film. Though the filmmaker creates a world devoid of warmth and joy, the film is paced and pieced together in such a cunning way, that it draws the audience further in with every twist and turn, each revealed to be more unsettling than the last.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is Lanthimos’ second English-language film. The film tells the tale of how Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) and his family’s lives are turned upside down by the increasing intrusion of the fatherless teenager, Martin (Barry Keoghan) and the sinister ultimatum that shakes the very foundations of the Murphy household.
Although the film’s acting performances are highly commendable- especially those of Nicole Kidman as Mrs. Murphy and Barry Keoghan in his stomach-turning portrayal of Martin- the dialogue is extremely blunt, monotone and expositive in nature. Whilst it’s understandable that this ensures a more macabre experience for audiences, it was more of a distraction from the actual substance of the words being spoken. Audiences may often find themselves thinking “wow, the way he said that sounded odd,” rather than “what he said was odd”, and although this may have been Lanthimos’ intent, I couldn’t help but find this technique off-putting at times.
Lanthimos, however, won me over with his camera work. Via the utilisation of slow and calculated shots, he creates a world which draws you in not only with questions but with slow pans and zooms. During conversations, over the shoulder shots often focussed on a subject whilst gradually zooming in as they spoke. This made the robotic dialogue somewhat easier to swallow. Tracking shots were also utilised, one particular scene followed Dr. Murphy through the hospital with an overhead tracking shot which seamlessly turned corners and followed him into rooms. These choices were a direct indicator that danger loomed around every corner, patiently waiting to strike.
In addition to the intensity of the camera work, the score ensures a foreboding ambience, wicked and looming at times with intense and shrill climaxes which run parallel to the pain experienced by characters. Whether that pain bears a direct and physical effect or if it’s more the psychological torment of an intense ultimatum that offers only one extremely grim escape; the score was an obvious standout.
The ability to weave comedy into this film is also extremely commendable. Laughter was mostly parallel to discomfort, but even in doing so, Lanthimos cuts tension. Each time this is implemented, it is timed perfectly to either pull you away from the dark tone for just a second or on the other hand, to make you question your own sensibilities. By coupling comedy and tension, the film often had me questioning a reason for my laughter which can sometimes prove even more unsettling than the film.
Lanthimos’ take on upper-class family life is grim, foreboding and, all the while, extremely fun to follow. By putting the patriarch of this household in a position of intense power, he makes a grim statement – although blood may be thicker than water, in times of utter desperation, family ties can be severed with relative ease.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer poses the question to audiences; if you were in this situation would you do the same? Could you do the same? And in answering these question lies the horror of this film.
Watch the trailer for The Killing of a Sacred Deer below