Published on February 13th, 2018 | by Dan Nicholls0
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Now available on Blu-ray and digitally to rent or own, a repeat home viewing experience of ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ reaps additional rewards.
Criminally overlooked last year when it squeaked out meager box office receipts in a sea of more high-profile fare, The Killing of a Sacred Deer stands a good chance of being the next cult hit to stand the test of time. Its bleak subject matter is deftly handled with heavy doses of deadpan gallows humor that makes it a unique concoction for those with the appropriate taste buds. The film is extreme at times and terrifyingly subdued when least expected. It’s different enough to make some people really love, and others really hate it.
A heart surgeon named Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) meets with a teenage boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan) regularly enough for it to look kinda creepy to the casual observer. At first it seems possible that Steven is just a mentor to Martin, or a family friend who consoled him after his father’s death. But very little of the surface details of The Killing of a Sacred Deer would suggest what’s underneath.
This peculiar relationship came about because Steven was the surgeon operating on Martin’s dad, who died cut open on a table. It’s clear that Steven carries some guilt about the death, even if he doesn’t admit it, and his recent sobriety hints that maybe he let his demons interfere with his duties. His wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) blithely supports her husband and unknowingly opens their home to a fatal menace when Martin decides to ramp up his interest in becoming a presence in Steven’s life.
There’s a chilling, Damien-like eeriness behind Martin’s eyes and Keoghan dials it in to an unsettling degree. Things feel so off in every thing he does, from gifting a keychain to someone to eating spaghetti. The fact that Martin seems to have some kind of a supernatural power only helps make him feel less human and more sinister that his docile exterior would suggest. But his intentions are clear: the family will slowly die unless Steven chooses a life to give up to Martin’s offering.
There’s a heavy fog of calm dread that slowly creeps in to the Murphy family home the more and more Martin keeps hanging around. The kids – Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic) – are quirky in a Wes Anderson-y kinda way, distinguished from that kind by the lack of heart they display. Precocious Kim in particular has a millennial Wednesday Addams attitude about her that stands out as a bit more off kilter than the rest of the family. Almost sensing that she’s the black sheep, there’s a fantastic scene in the film where she makes an offer that would redistribute the balance in the family dynamic drastically.
The film surprises as the situation becomes more dire. Smoothly easing from light horror to pitch black comedy, sometimes within the same scene, means that the outcome of each individual scene is always on a pendulum. There are some horribly dark guffaws to be found especially in the film’s final act, when all bets are off, played expertly straight by a committed cast of actors. They all feel so dialed in to the exactly same wavelength that the movie often harmonizes in a pulsating somber beat.
Director and co-writer Yorgos Lanthimos has been known for his stark, uncompromising view with such films as Dogtooth and The Lobster (which received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay). Laughs are found in the humorless delivery of some particularly dark dialogue. And Lanthimos’ eye for precision is exact down to the smallest detail. In his understanding and ownership of every detail in the frame, he’s often downright Kubrickian. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is almost The Shining meets We Need to Talk About Kevin.
The big names in the cast will almost be enough to quickly pique anyone’s interest, but it’s unlikely that mainstream audiences are going to embrace this one. Still, the biggest challenges often result in more delicious dividends, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer is sure to leave an impression regardless what side of the fence you fall on. It’s exacting, brave filmmaking and one of 2017’s very best. Now that it’s available for home viewing, repeat consumption will only offer up more rewards.