One of the year’s best.
In the world of Yorgos Lanthimos, everyone is a somnambulist. They glide slowly through hazy days, saying what they feel but feeling very little. It seems like it’s an affectation but give it time, and soon it will seem like the most natural thing in the world. Human beings can get used to anything, even the bizarre things that happen in Yorgos Lanthimos movies, and it takes extraordinary, sometimes horrifying circumstances to break us out of complacency.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is another delicious slice of cynicism from Lanthimos. It’s tempting to call it a slow burn. Instead it feels like it’s slowly rotting. A bacteria has been introduced to the Murphy family – Steven (Colin Farrell) and Anna (Nicole Kidman), and their children Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic) – in the form of Martin (Barry Keoghan), a teenaged interloper with a strange hold on this family. Just when it seems the nature of Martin’s power is explained, the movie reveals that he’s even more mysterious than they ever could have thought.
Eventually a bizarre form of blight infects the Murphy family – literally or figuratively, I leave that part to you – and Steven, the patriarch, is given an unthinkable choice to make. Yorgos Lanthimos gives Steven a rather long time to make that decision, subtracting conventional excitement from the movie in exchange for a nerve-wracking wallow in humiliation, guilt, denial, and eventually a despicable application of logic.
It would be a mistake to look too deeply at the “hows” and “whys” of The Killing of a Sacred Deer. The “whats” speak for themselves. When faced with the unthinkable the Murphy family thinks things they never thought before, and engage in bizarre behavior. They rage against new gods and then supplicate themselves before them. The love that they took for granted downgrades to gamesmanship, and every kind thing they ever did for one another becomes an item to be carefully catalogued.
It seems as though Yorgos Lanthimos is arguing that every family is one horrible incident away from ruin, and all it would take is one cruel deity to make it so. If that’s the case, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is very convincing. The story is vicious, the writing insidious. The cast is asked to be half-asleep but in that state, like many of us, they sometimes reveal unexpected truths. And the ethereal camerawork transforms each little moment into one of great significance.