How better to describe the work of the Greek writer and director Yorgos Lanthimos, whose particular storytelling style, exemplified by cult hits like 2009’s Dogtooth and 2015’s The Lobster, feels like a whole genre unto itself? Lanthimos’s new movie is somehow even more macabre and unsettling than his previous efforts, and yet is mesmerizing. To be clear, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a drama, and a grisly one at times.
In the case of The Lobster, the aggressive heartlessness of it all existed in direct opposition to what would have most benefited the film’s subject matter, a very obvious subversion of convention that ultimately ends up crushing itself from the get-go by being entirely unable of eliciting the slightest bit of emotional attachment or attention. On the other hand, The Killing of a Sacred Deer takes this Kubrickian sterilization (accompanied even with an appropriately overblown operatic, orchestral soundtrack) as if to match the unwelcoming environment of a hospital, using the carelessness and awkward deliberateness of every character and situation to accentuate human facades and flaws. Not to mention, Lanthimos actually interweaves a few moments of authentic humanity into this one; and strangely enough, such moments don’t feel like inconsistencies in tone so much as plausible elements of human behavior.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer finds all sorts of ways to be repulsive and unsettling, and does so in the most frightening way possible, by exposing only the sinister capabilities of humanity’s worst enemy: ourselves. Barry Keoghan is our magnetic psychopath in this one, and it feels safe to say that this kid is a talent who must be watched; he’s remarkably creepy in a way that doesn’t feel slightly derivative. Seriously, there’s a point where it becomes grating to have Martin enter the frame, and that kind of fear cannot be achieved easily. He takes the spotlight away from our leads, but Farrell and Kidman are nothing short of remarkable, matching the perfectly-paced idiosyncratic rhythm with unexpected pathos at every turn.
The title of the film itself is derived from a Greek mythology from Iphigenia in Aulis, where Agamemnon must sacrifice his daughter for the sake of winning the battle and appealing to goddess Athena—perfectly describing the situation of our main character, where he must sacrifice one of his offspring, in order to satisfy what would appear to be a higher power to restore peace to his life. The idea of family has already been explored in Lanthimos’ Dogtooth, where he pondered what would occur to a family in which the father dedicated his entire life to protecting it? And he asks the question of morality in family once more—and perhaps morality in general—how far are you willing to go to save those who you protect? How must you make that decision? Would you be able to live with it? By bringing the audience along that ideological journey of Steven, we are forced into this mindset and we wonder what we would’ve done in that situation.
The movie only profoundly struggles with its conclusion, mainly in the sense that it feels that far more creative directions could have been taken with how it plays out, but in the additional sense that this film thrives on its deliberate aversion of convention, only to succumb to convention in both big picture ways and smaller details within its climatic and final moments. But with an enthralling and engaging story with amazing and inventive camerawork, The Killing of a Sacred Deer sets itself apart from most other movies in both simple and complicated ways. Like any of his films, This one won’t be for everyone. But, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is humane and satirical, horrifying and hilarious, at once a work of realism and fantasy – A Dark Twist on a Greek Myth.
‘The Killing Of A Sacred Deer’ gets an 8.6/10
Shot on 35's Rating Sheet: 9.6 – 10.0: Excellent! 8.6 – 9.5: Fantastic, but with minor flaws 7.6 – 8.5: Great, but with issues 6.6 – 7.5: Okay, but with major issues 5.6 – 6.5: Had potential, but falls flat hard. 4.5 – 5.5: Disaster!
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