The Killing of a Sacred Deer review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
There’s an intoxicating insanity to the assembly of Killing of a Sacred Deer that dares you to define within its haze of a family nightmare. The less observant will see only wooden acting and random acts with no concrete explanation for why Colin Farrell has strange conversations with Keoghan. Look a little closer and you’ll find something so twisted and perplexing in its psychological labyrinth of terror. I don’t want to pull out that pretentious line about the film being too smart but I will say it never serves predictable or easy answers, pulling the rug out from the audience just before they think they’ve cracked Yorgos Lanthimos’s puzzle.
Farrell plays Steven Murphy, a heart surgeon with a wife and two kids. When not performing surgery or spending time at home with the family, he has been secretly meeting with Martin Lang, the son of a patient Steven lost years ago. Their secrecy may start making the wheels turn in your head about what they’re up to and what exactly is the subtext of their confounding conversations, riddled in emotionless presentations. Are they having an affair? Are they planning something? What it turns out to be is so surreally creepy, almost aloof in its physical form, that I dare not spoil how this all unfolds, if only not to open the meaty can of film theory just begging for the top to be popped.
If you find yourself halfway through the movie questioning the specifics of Martin’s true intent or how its possible for what befalls Steven’s family, pump the brakes on your analysis. It becomes clear from the very first shot that the movie is not going to spell out much, evident from the classical music over graphic footage of organs. The film is ultimately about the deterioration of the family and the overwhelming guilt that hides deep under the facade of quiet stability.
An art film? In a sense, yes, but few art films come with a driving sense of how much further a plot this dark and ambiguous can plunge. Sure, in the first act, we’re on the edge of our seats trying to decipher what Martin is doing, why Steven continues to listen, and why Steven’s son won’t eat. Consider how when Steven’s son is submitted for medical testing for his illness, nobody can figure out what’s wrong with him. Science can’t explain it, nor can it explain the story. But the otherworldly drama it weaves is so intoxicatingly brilliant that there was never a dull moment.
There are still a handful of moments that don’t quite resonate as they slide towards the creepy with a tone that borders on comedy. In a scene where Steven tries to connect with his son to get him to eat, he tells him an awkward story about masturbation without a trace of shame or gentility. Another scene has Martin chewing off his own arm and directly addressing the metaphor he is trying to make, making me almost question its addition as either commentary or satire. And there’s an uneasy bit of laughter in the most peculiar of sequences where Steven sets his family up in a circle, drops a bag on his head, and spins around for who to shoot as though he’s playing Wheel of Fortune.
Even though I adored the film’s nature of continuously turning up the surreal while the tension mounts, I’m willing to admit it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s bitter, uncompromising, unhinged, strange, direct, artsy, and brutally blunt. But that’s just the way I like my psychological horror, refusing to exposition itself into boredom or tie a neat moral bow onto its end. No sugar, I like it black as night, to the point where explaining the title is subject to debate in its meaning.