I had zero clue what I was getting myself into with The Killing of a Sacred Deer. There I was, munching on popcorn with my girlfriend when the now well-known A24 logo appears, and then — open-heart surgery? Yeah, full-blown open-heart surgery on display with blood, veins, tools and an entire orchestra serving as the soundtrack.
“Oh, crap, what have I got myself into?” was the first question that popped into my head. Luckily, that wasn’t the craziest scene in the film. I’m also lucky I didn’t eat a hearty meal before viewing director Yorgos Lanthimos‘ follow-up to The Lobster, a film I really fancied in 2016.
Sacred Deer continues the unique approach to filmmaking by Lanthimos. The Greek director brought along a story that is best left briefly touched upon. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a cardiothoracic surgeon who’s seen his fair share of patients. He’s a veteran in the field, well-respected and usually alongside his sidekick, anesthesiologist Matthew (Bill Camp). This is a well-oiled machine, but there’s a sudden interest into the inner workings of this duo. Enter Martin (Barry Keoghan), a boy who had juts lost his 40-something-year-old father after an unsuccessful surgery. This boy is stuck to Murphy like glue, following him around the hospital, asking Murphy to join him at home for dinner and even unexpectedly dropping into his office.
The film does well to not blatantly tell the audience what it’ll do next. There’s proper build-up to the tension, and it’s executed wonderfully. The dialogue between characters is deadpan and robotic in nature, but this is intentional. The emotionless weight of what should be a positive conversation is against our expectations as human beings, for instance. When Murphy’s daughter, Kim (Raffey Cassidy), explains that she’s doing well in choir, most fathers would react with open arms, smiling, showing adulation. No, not in Sacred Deer. Instead, there’s barely a smirk and usually flat responses, “Oh, that’s great, darling.”
Nicole Kidman‘s grace on-screen goes without saying, but her role as Murphy’s wife was so weird, and I loved it. She leads the herd for the supporting cast, which does well to help glue together the film outside of our lead men.
The performance by Barry Keoghan is among the best of the year. He’s clearly troubled after losing his father, but there are layers to his performance outside of a common plot device. The ability to flip through emotions on-screen was flawless. Again, this is an area that, if I dive in too deep, there will be spoilers amuck. Just know that Martin is a character who sticks with you hours, days, weeks after viewing Sacred Deer.
While the film is generally unsettling and dark, there’s humor — however, don’t expect it to change the film’s tone. Lanthimos is known for piecing together his tales with a sprinkle of comedy, but I found myself wondering if I was laughing to ease the pain of what I witnessed or because the joke was genuinely funny. Nonetheless, the dark comedy is effective.
There are clear horror elements to this film, primarily from the set-up of certain scenes with a creepy score. Shots go from wide to close-up, producing a sense of claustrophobia. I waited, and waited, and waited for a scare — but no, this isn’t a cheap thriller. Again, another element that strays from expectation. This is smart, and each shot allows details to be emphasized. Cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis worked on The Lobster with Lanthimos, so it’s no surprise that the two strung together a well-shot film.
The biggest flaw in Sacred Deer is how it tends to gradually take a bit longer and longer to move its plot along. As we get closer to the third act, the film really accentuates the fact that it’s different and weird. It’s heavy-handed in some sequences — a lot more so than The Lobster.
I wish I could write more on this film, but you need to go in as blind as you can. Whatever you expect The Killing of a Sacred Deer to be, it is not. There’s nothing to hate about this film. The gut-wrenching display is sure to turn away many viewers, but for those who stick around: you’re in for a treat.
I viewed a press screening of “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” for purposes of this review, thanks to Allied Integrated Marketing and A24. ❤
The film is rated-R, runs 2 hours and opens in South Florida on Friday, Nov. 10 at:
MIAMI-DADE & BROWARD
Aventura Mall 24 Theatres Aventura
O Cinema Wynwood Miami
South Beach 18 Miami Beach
Sunset Place 24 Theatres South Miami
Cinepolis Grove 15 Coconut Grove
CMX Brickell City Center 10 Miami
Paradise 24 Davie
PALM BEACH & BOCA RATON
City Place 20 West Palm Beach
Cinepolis Jupiter 14 Jupiter
Palace 20 Boca Raton
Shadowood 16 Boca Raton