Title: The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Country: UK, Ireland, USA
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writers: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou
Cinematography: Thimios Bakatakis
Greek social satirist Yorgos Lanthimos’ modern-day re-construction of the ancient Greek play IPHIGENIA AT AULIS, THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER preserves his maverick wheezes in the film’s textual composition: a curse of tit-for-tat disregarding any logical explication, and bolstered by a robust cast, Lanthimos’ pull-push machination of its camera’s slick movement, this parable lands on its feet alright, despite precariously veering into a missed opportunity.
Its eye-opening gambit is a close-up to a pulsating heart during a real-time open-heart surgery, a metaphor one might conjecture that a process awaits to unpick something vital, seismic, but hidden under the surface and taken granted by us. The story follows Colin Farrell’s Steven Murphy, a cardiologist who apparently has a perfect family with wife Anna (Kidman) and two children, Kim (Cassidy, sturdily braving herself in a both emotionally and physically challenging role) and her younger brother Bob (Suljic, an angelic guardian of curly long hairs), it is polarized from the quirky domestic setting in DOGTOOTH (2009), Lanthimos’ stepping stone into international auteur-dom. However, the quirky part is infused through the advent of Martin (Keoghan), a soft-spoken teenager whose relation with Steven appears at once cordial but fishy, blokeish but insidious, and when Martin’s aggression into Steven’s household hits that invidious note, something psychic occurs, which blatantly exhorts Steven to choose a sacrifice from his family to atone for his misconduct.
Remolding a Hellenic tragedy into a contemporary scenario requires a critical revamp to modernize the precept of source material, and this is precisely what Lanthimos fails to do, it is Steven’s remorse, that doesn’t crystallize in his behavior after his offspring being subjected to Martin’s punitive curse, he is distraught, desperate, but it seems that the proposition of trading his own life for one of his children, has never floated up in his mind, after all, the deer are innocent, he is the sinner of, to say the very least, medical negligence. Through a cacophony of discordant soundscape, Steven and his family’s psychological strains have been pushed into every nook and cranny of our sensorium, nerve-racking, absurd and bedazzled with gallows humor (crawling critters are a part of the furniture of horror flicks), till the uneasy Russian roulette solution.
Performance-wise, Farrell competently parlays his reserved, imploding mode from THE LOBSTER (2015) into this familial turmoil, but his portrayal of Steven inclines to malign a man’s softness, in a sense, he is punished not only for his slip on the operation table but also his namby-pamby indecision/immaturity, which in turn, gives Kidman’s Anna a stage to shine in her more controlled, sensible, motherly sway, and Kidman seizes our admiration with her scathing gaze and haunting resignation, when she realizes the inevitability, incidentally, Anna’s mobility becomes a constantly distracting concern whenever she moves because she is prophesied to be the next one falls into paralysis. Although Martin’s psychic power is the elephant-in-the-room conveniently mythified, Barry Keoghan is a bracing discovery of the next big thing, a joli-laid in appearance but effortlessly connives to consolidate Martin’s not well-adjusted psyche beneath the camouflage of benignancy, a chilling but also ensorcelling bravura.
Lastly, let’s digress back to the conjecture of its opening gambit, what does TKOASD unpick? Overall, it doesn’t acquit itself as a forensic allegory of any modern malaise (as in his three previous works) but is considerably taken away by its surrealistic flourish and the time-honored moral debate it provokes, it is an old-wine-in-the-new-bottle dilemma, however luscious does the wine taste, it is always the design of the bottle needs to be updated, preferably, in a progressive direction.