I recently sat down with my better half to watch Yorgos Lanthimos' The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017). I knew nothing about it going in other than knowing I really enjoyed two of his other films, The Favourite and The Lobster. At £3.49 to rent on Amazon Prime Video I really hoped it would be worth it and... I have never felt so polarised by the time the end credits roll.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer stars Colin Farrell as Dr. Steven Murphy, a renowned cardiovascular surgeon heading a seemingly idyllic household with his wife (Nicole Kidman) and two children. But lurking just outside his perfect suburbia is the newly befriended Martin, the son of a patient who 'tragically died' after Dr. Murphy's surgery went wrong.
I'm sure you can see where this revenge horror might head.
On one hand The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a profoundly ominous film that challenges you to think about the justification of revenge and divine punishment. On the other, it's really really... really weird and doesn't actually surprise you in any way.
First and foremost, if you're looking for a film that will unequivocally crawl right under your skin - this is that. The characters talk like they're in some kind of simulation of reality, deadpan and efficient in their conversations. Almost robotic. It's a choice that utterly unsettled me much like 2015's The Lobster.
It's worth noting that there's an eerie version of Ellie Goulding's 'Burn' (see the trailer) that the daughter sings which will undoubtedly result in never feeling the same about it from here on out. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQFdGfwChtw&ab_channel=A24)
From the very first shot to the last it unveils a horrible, uneasy circumstance that one would only think of in some twisted game of 'would you rather?'. I don't want to give away the choices as that would spoil it, but in doing so the film's story reveals very relatable fears that everyone has about the loss of loved ones.
The disturbing premise is executed with the support of terrifically disconcerting cinematography and the kind of music that can only really be compared to that of The Shining (not to mention that Dr. Murphy's son has a striking resemblance to Danny Torrance). The atmosphere is truly horrific, the acting is fantastic, the story is inherently unnerving.
But that doesn't help my undeniable feeling towards it. It's often a little too unusual for its own good (and that's coming from someone who enjoys films like Robert Eggers' The Lighthouse).
There's an underlying theme of sexuality that runs through this film that seems to serve no purpose other than to weird the viewer out. I suppose that for a psychological horror it kind of makes sense to take it to that personal level, but it just never feels necessary.
It's a film that chiefly explores justice, family and challenging the stereotypical father figure. So the unnatural placing of a peculiar sex scene after a tense interrogation doesn't really hit the right notes.
To add insult to injury, by the end the novelty of it all has mostly worn off. That's mostly because of two things. There are plenty of unnecessary scenes that make the film feel a bit bulky and, more importantly, it never actually surprises you given the shocking nature of 'the question'.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer simply rides along on that 'would you rather?' question without a single plot twist. Martin eventually reveals a dastardly plan and it all just seems to happen. There's no real urgency or fight from the principal characters. But that could be because there's not a lot they can do. It's an impossible situation.
Unlike The Favourite or The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer fails to deliver any great thrills or suprising turn of events. You think there may be another twist to the tale, but it unpredictably just follows the path it has set for itself. Perhaps that's the true horror of it. Perhaps that's its mistake.
This film is a good psychological thriller/horror. It will horrify you. It's really well acted and it's genuinely unnerving for the majority of the runtime. But it failed to truly excite me in the way that The Lobster or The Favourite did. They're very different films, but its hard to compare this to anything else I've ever seen.
It's an artsy A24 film with, undeniably, a lot of things to unpack. Perhaps over time I'll start to feel differently about it. For now, it's hard to ignore how impressive it is but The Killing of a Sacred Deer fails to justify a lot of its weirdness.
Is it Any Good? I think A.O. Scott of The New York Times puts it best. "You will suffer in vein'.
Have you seen it? What did you think?
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is now available to rent on Amazon Prime Video