The Killing of a Sacred Deer Proves that Families are… Complicated
In a lot of ways, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a movie that justifies the rating system here at Stars & Popcorn. There’s no arguing that it isn’t an excellent, deep, and meaningful film. One worthy of praise and admiration. However, it’s a movie that I never want to watch again.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is the newest magical realism film from Yorgos Lanthimos, the director of the critically acclaimed The Lobster. Once again he turns to Colin Farrell as his leading man, but this time around he plays a cardiovascular surgeon placed in an impossible situation. Farrell attempts to rid himself of guilt by befriending the son of a patient that died on his operating table named Martin (Barry Keoghan). However, Martin is hardly what he seems (and he seems really awkward) and places some sort of curse on Farrell’s family where they will all slowly get sick and die unless he kills one to make up for killing Martin’s father.
When I say that I never want to see The Killing of a Scared Deer again, it’s because of how painfully uncomfortable it is for the vast majority of the time. The characters in it all seem distant and void of personal or meaningful connections. It’s almost like watching people struggle to make conversation in an elevator. It’s a movie filled with small talk. That alone wouldn’t be so bad, but the conversations themselves are astoundingly blunt. During one scene Farrell casually mentions to another daughter something to the effect of “My daughter started menstruating two weeks ago. She was frightened at first, but she’s fine now.” The awkward nature of this statement isn’t because of what is said, but in how this use used as small talk. It comes out of nowhere and seems like something that maybe his daughter might not want it to be the topic of conversation over drinks.
These interactions though even bleed into the familial relationships in the film. Farrell’s character is married to Nicole Kidman, who treats her marriage almost as if it were a business partnership. This even shows in the odd sexual relationship where she indulges her husband’s unsettling fetish or acting as though she were under “general anesthesia” and feigning unconsciousness. This is all the more disturbing because he is an actual doctor who performs operations.
There’s no arguing that The Killing of a Sacred Deer doesn’t build an almost sickening level of tension. However, I’m not sure if it’s because of concern for the characters or because of the way the characters seem to lack real connection or emotion. That is until things start to go terribly wrong. As the family starts to get sick and believe that there is validity to Martin’s threat, they start to turn on each other. They slowly try to win Farrell’s favor without being too obvious in their motives. It’s easy to see through their attempts though, at least from an audience’s perspective, since it’s the only time they start to try to make a real connection with him. As unsettling as it is, I honestly buy into the fact that none of them would want to die and would do their best not to choose someone to die, but to secure their safety.
As I said before, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a movie that finds its tension not from its material, but in its characters and their off-putting performances. I can’t say they’re bad performances either, especially because it’s obvious how intentional they are given the quality of actors and actresses in the film (I was pleasantly surprised to see a cameo by Alicia Silverstone in the movie). It’s an almost operatic tragedy and one that really manages to sink its claw into the viewer. There’s a constant feeling of dread through the film, generally because there is something very wrong with everyone in the film. The performances are superficial, visually there’s no depth to the movie, the dialogue seems designed just to pass the time. Normally these are all things I would point out as being negatives, but due to the deliberate nature this film goes about setting up its tone, I have to say it’s all masterfully done. Still, I won’t be watching The Killing of a Sacred Deer again anytime soon.