Saturday 5 October 2019

Movie Review: The Killing Of A Sacred Deer (2017)

A surreal drama with psychological suspense and hints of horror and tragedy, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is a quietly sinister exploration of guilt and perverted justice.

Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a renowned heart surgeon, married to ophthalmologist Anna (Nicole Kidman). They have two kids, 14 year old Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and the younger Bob (Sunny Suljic). Steven also spends time with 16 year old Martin (Barry Keoghan), a slightly awkward adolescent. Martin's father had previously died on Steven's operating table, and the surgeon carries an unspoken sense of responsibility towards the boy and his mother (Alicia Silverstone).

Steven invites Martin to his house for dinner and to meet Anna, Kim and Bob, and the evening goes well, both Kim and Bob entranced by their new visitor. Martin reciprocates, but Steven's evening with Marin and his mother (Alicia Silverstone) does not go as well. Soon after the visits, young Bob starts to experience inexplicable health problems, and life for the Murphy family takes an unexpectedly dark turn.

Inspired by Greek tragedies but transposed to a modern context, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is written and directed with contorted glee by Yorgos Lanthimos. The film unfolds at a carefully calibrated pace, Lanthimos investing the entire first hour in character and background introductions before starting to turn the dial towards malevolent settings.

And even once the trajectory is locked towards Steven and his family confronting unimaginable outcomes, Lanthimos refuses to surrender to any genre cliches. Other than eerie music, the mood remains cold, the camera placement and dialogue exchanges precise and oddly clipped. Here bad things and horrible decisions are devoid of shock and turbulence. The awful ailments confronting the Murphys arrive quietly and sit down with the family, dramatically shaking every vestige of normalcy through mere presence.

With emotionally draining quiet pleas for forbearance creeping to the narrative forefront, the seemingly supernatural trauma serves to create an unsettling mood throughout the film's second half. Although Lanthimos has trouble nailing the ending, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer lingers in its portrayal of guilt and karma as overpowering metaphysical realities.

Nicole Kidman and a bearded Colin Farrell buy into Lanthimos' surreptitious tendencies with icy performances, two polite professionals lacking the time to express passion and only alive to the spectre creeping into their family once it takes root. The film hinges on finding a human representation of self-righteous calamity, and Barry Keoghan obliges with a suitably creepy and ominously awkward performance.

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer may fend off other physical afflictions, but at an unimaginable emotional cost.

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