Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (2017)
You have probably already worked out that the title, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, refers to the punishment meted out by Artemis to Agamemnon for his killing of one of her deer – he was doomed to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia. Now, I hear you say, isn’t that also a punishment of Iphigenia’s mother, her siblings and oh, I don’t know, Iphigenia? Of course Iphigenia is later avenged and the whole House of Atreus thing kicks off, but I digress…The point is that cardiologist Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), the Agamemnon of this tale and his family, are being punished for something which Steven maybe / probably did to offend the gods. Their instrument – Martin Lang (Barry Keoghan) – stalks the Murphy family for his own reasons and strangely, it takes a while before Steven, Anna (Steven’s ophthalmologist wife (Nicole Kidman), Kim, their 14 year old daughter (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob, (their 12 year old son – a too-Indian looking Sunny Suljic) find this slithering, wet-lipped, gimlet-eyed weirdo at all frightening.
To say more about the plot would be to provide spoilers, but it is no giveaway, when talking about a Lanthimos film, to say that there is an nasty supernatural element (which is simply taken for granted by all) and that you won’t skip giggling out of the theatre at the end. Also fittingly for a Lanthimos film, there are some satisfyingly delivered slaps across the face, children dragging themselves about by their elbows, bleeding from the eyes, unerotic sex and the setting of impossible tests. The dialogue is, as in The Lobster, stilted, apparently irrelevant and repetitious – there is a lot of cool, carefully enunciated talk about watch straps and percentages of body hair.
The acting is flawless, although it’s hard to know when Nicole Kidman is acting and when she’s being a humourless block of ice. The performance of Barry Keoghan as Martin is a tour de force of poor posture, twitches and carefully assumed expressions. His spaghetti eating scene will haunt your dreams.
The weaknesses? Humour is not Lanthimos’s forte. The jokes (two that we counted) are heavy-handed and we could have done without them. The first half of the film is too slow, and it all takes too long to get to the real creepiness, violence and cringey suspense.
In theme The Killing of a Sacred Deer is reminiscent of The Box (essay topic – compare and contrast the representation of mothers in these two films), but unsurprisingly, in tone it is most like Lanthimos’ last feature, The Lobster. For TVC, The Lobster is the better film – denser and more complete. Where The Lobster is a weird meditation on the human condition, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is pure horror, but better than most. And made for adults for once.