The Killing of a Sacred Deer: A Review
2015 was a big year for me and my movie reviewing career; it was the first year that I decided to take it seriously and was also the year I was introduced to a man named Yorgos Lanthimos. I was not physically introduced to him, but in a way it felt like I had been after watching “The Lobster” for the first time. The movie was big on my radar, and one day it popped up at my local theater; my excitement could not be contained. I knew that "The Lobster" was going to be something special after that first interview scene, and when an elderly woman walked out and said, "this movie sucks" to me, after Biscuit Woman offers David a desperate blowjob in exchange for some company, I knew we had an all-time great on our hands.
While that second half of "The Lobster" is severely lacking compared to the first half, I still consider it one of my favorite movies of the past decade. If this recommendation is not good enough, if you have not seen "The Lobster" I think of it as required viewing before truly becoming an adult, like seeing "Boogie Nights" and "Goodfellas". My high respect for "The Lobster" and its writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos made his follow-up - "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" - one of my most anticipated movies of 2017, and with one of the best damn trailers I have ever seen I was 100% in. With great expectations come great responsibility, and Lanthimos is more than up for the challenge.
If you are have not seen the trailer I linked above, please do. It will do a far better job of explaining what you are getting into than a boring paragraph about plot ever will. Before I go any further, I want to put out an extra word of caution, "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" is not – I repeat not – a movie for the faint of heart. The subject matter dealt with here is extremely weighty and Lanthimos will do whatever his heart desires to unsettle the viewer. This is not a challenge or a proclamation of strength for being able to watch "The Killing of a Sacred Deer", but this is not a movie for everyone. The woman who walked out of "The Lobster" may not have had the heart to make it past the first two minutes of this one, so you have been warned: do not go into this one lightly.
"The Lobster" was nominated for an Academy Award for Original Screenplay and for good reason. Lanthimos and his writing partner Efthymis Filippou do not write movies like anyone else does, they have a way of subverting normal dialogue, to make the it sound more realistic without making it sound realistic at all. If you enjoyed how confusing that sentence was "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" going to blow your socks off. The dialogue in it is incredibly monotone, but for tremendously good reason. Not only does it allow Lanthimos the ability to pretty clearly express his point of view and disdain for certain behavior , but also lets him build up the world he is creating and getting the viewer unsettled in that world. It also helps to get a laugh every once and awhile, which this movie desperately needs.
I think the brilliance of "The Lobster" lies in in its comedy. "The Lobster" is one of the darkest movies I have ever seen, and that helps the comedy really pop and makes that movie incredibly re-watchable. If "The Lobster" is as dark as a cave, "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" is the bottom of the ocean. There are some really funny parts in "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" but they are really few and far between. This is not necessarily a bad thing, where "The Lobster" deals in themes like dating, relationships, and love, "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" deals in mental illness, spite, and revenge. The darker themes make for a darker story and ultimately a darker movie, but this does make "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" a less enjoyable watch.
On the subject of themes: Yorgos Lanthimos movies always take the theme more seriously than other things like plot, structure, and cohesion. He builds a world around said theme – in this case revenge – and then lets that terrific writing and direction fill in the characters with subtle but powerful moments. While the dialogue seems flat, it is what the characters do and say that really show you who they are, rather than just advancing plot. So while his characters may feel shallow and lifeless, they are literally supposed to be that way.
With the dialogue being so strange and blunt, the onus is really on the actors to work the line between subtle commentary and being completely brain dead. Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman both have some experience with Lanthimos's style, having appeared in his movies before, and are both fantastic here. The really impressive thing is the performance of the younger actors in the movie, and their ability to deliver with such difficult materiel. Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic play Farrell and Kidman's children, and Barry Keoghan plays Martin, a friend from school, or is he the son of a doctor? Keoghan is the real stand out here, he has appeared in "Dunkirk" but other than that is a relative newcomer. Martin is such an unsettling and troubled character and Keoghan plays all of this beautifully, especially for a young actor.
As big of a trademark for Lanthimos as his strange writing, is his incredible control of the camera and where it goes and what goes in it. Part of what makes "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" unsettling is the beauty of the image you are looking at, compared to the horrific events going on inside it. What makes Lanthimos such an amazing director is his ability to not over-complicate shots or camera movements, while still making them look like pieces of art. It is things like only using natural light and no handheld shots that give The Killing of a Sacred Deer a cinematic and beautiful look that dares you to keep watching, no matter how badly you want to look away.
There is an upper echelon of directors working today who I believe to be the kings of the art right now. Christopher Nolan, Denis Vileneuve, Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Paul Thomas Anderson, Edgar Wright, and of course Quentin Tarantino are all guys who right now are not only putting out great movies every time, but are also putting out movies that other directors emulate. Yorgos Lanthimos is knocking on that door with the best of the best right now, and "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" puts him into that category. He has such a unique style and vision for his movies that I don't think anyone else can replicate and leaves me wanting more every time. "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" is as stimulating as it is horrifying and has left me thinking about it for days. That is the type of stuff those other directors I listed above and of course the all-time greats like Spielberg, Scorsese, Peckinpaw, Lynch, Kubrick, and Hitchcock live in and give us some of the best movies ever. While not as fun to watch as stuff like "The Lobster" and "Schindler's List", "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" is an amazing experience and a must for anyone who loves to be at the will of a director reaching his peak.