No one can accuse Director Yorgos Lanthimos’ cinematic sentiments of not being original. His provocative films are skewered, macabre, satirical takes on archaic societal constructs. Parenthood, or whatever nihilist-based form of it, was under the microscope in DOGTOOTH. The inherent absurdity of traditional romantic relationships were spotlit in THE LOBSTER. And now, with THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER, we see the different facets of dramatic consequences become the main talking point. Deliciously messed up and wildly bizarre, you’ll be mesmerized by the unsettling, weird scent it gives out. This psychological thriller is completely riveting, getting under your skin and staying there.
Cardio-vascular surgeon Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) has the perfect life: a thriving job at a top hospital, a beautiful home in the suburbs, a loving, statuesque wife (Nicole Kidman) with a practice of her own, and two adoring kids (Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic). However, lurking on the sidelines of this idyllic existence is sixteen-year-old Martin Lang (Barry Keoghan), a fatherless teen Steven’s secretly taken to mentoring. Martin begins to crave the good doctor’s attention in the most unhealthy of manners and begins inserting himself into his father figure’s life – first through Steven’s job, then through Steven’s family. Despite these relatively minor annoyances, the full scope of Martin’s sinister intentions only becomes clear when he confronts Steven with a long-buried indiscretion – one that will irrevocably damage the Murphy family’s suburban bliss.
Lanthimos, along with frequent co-writer Efthymis Filippou, has crafted one of the most unique takes on decaying suburban morals and existential dread we’ve witnessed in cinema. Though the structure of the narrative is a familiar one, this is a modern Greek tragedy at its finest. The narrative makes strong ties to Steven’s god-like job position, asking what happens when his arrogance leads him down a path to actually playing God. Though it’s never really addressed, nor does it ever need to be, the rules of this world skew into the supernatural – yet it still remains grounded in reality a la THE FITS. The filmmakers take real world, foundational concepts of revenge, sacrifice, fear, complacency, puberty, and the illusion of safety and build from there. The monotone, almost robotic delivery from the other actors contrasts the frenetic, rapid-fire performance by Keoghan as the caustic, callous teen.
Hitchcockian psychodrama courses through this beast’s veins. A claustrophobic air of horror permeates the picture. The unnerving score augments the narrative drive. Suspense grips the audience as they grip their armrests – particularly in the climax where Steven is forced to make a gut-wrenching decision. Because these characters are so richly drawn, you can tangibly feel the gravitas of Steven’s conundrum – and the problems that splinter off, affecting his wife and kids. Levity is infused into the narrative where possible – whether in Farrell’s pristine portrayal of a man whose emotions are either deeply hidden or right on the surface, or in situations like when Steven consults with his kids’ principal in hopes to gain clarity.
Perhaps what’s most obvious about THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is that it shows that Lanthimos has matured as a filmmaker. Though THE LOBSTER wavers in the third act, DEER only grows stronger in its artistic vision and cutting commentary. This is his most consistent work to date – tonally and narratively. And whatever aspect of society he wants to deconstruct and mock next, we’ll be eager for him to slay.
THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is now playing.