At least a whole day has passed since I had seen Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer in theaters and I am still struggling to put together how I actually felt about it. After a rewatch of The Lobster had gone horribly for me, I was rather skeptical that his next English-language effort would end up leaving the same effect on me but I didn’t get exactly that. Perhaps there’s something about this that I had missed because I know Lanthimos’s films are characterized by social commentary under the guise of incredibly morbid humour and for every moment that I laughed in The Killing of a Sacred Deer I also felt like I wasn’t fully within the moment. But for everything that I admired about The Killing of a Sacred Deer there was also so much that I could not get behind at the exact same time.
The film’s premise is as straightforward and morbid as Yorgos Lanthimos’s films can get, for we have Colin Farrell returning after having appeared in The Lobster now as Steven Murphy. Murphy, a brilliant surgeon, is happily married to Nicole Kidman’s Anna and has two children: a son and a daughter. In secret, Murphy has been meeting with a strange teenager named Martin, who he soon introduces to his family – and soon enough after the encounter his children strangely end up falling ill. Soon, Murphy suspects that foul play is at hand and his meetings with Martin might have brought him in for something far more morbid. Even for a Yorgos Lanthimos movie I felt that this seemed far too straightforward, and that’s perhaps the biggest problem I can name – for I found The Lobster commentative beneath the surface, and yet this, I’m still unsure what to pick up other than a plot that could easily have been basic revenge at that. From there I can’t say I’m sure The Killing of a Sacred Deer had reached the potential that it had carried based on Lanthimos’s previous films.
Colin Farrell is magnificent as always, but Barry Keoghan is the real star – for Yorgos Lanthimos’s serenity is what makes The Killing of a Sacred Deer feel frightening. Add the serene imagery typical of a Lanthimos product as shot beautifully by Thimios Bakatakis, superimposed with a brutally violent image the next, and suddenly there’s a hypnotic quality being evoked. But what I love about seeing how Lanthimos gets his actors into place is how he manages to his own universe because they aren’t confused by the actions that they witness. But Lanthimos isn’t about letting his viewers settle themselves comfortably within their own worlds and its effectiveness can be felt from the moment Bob finally finds himself paralyzed from the legs for the first time. At the most effective, Lanthimos has everything working in his favour to create only the most uncomfortable atmosphere from the aforementioned aspects and the haunting score – excelling as a deadpan horror.
Lanthimos isn’t shy to hide his influences, because his subtlety plays as a perfect ode to Stanley Kubrick’s own brand of horror in The Shining but I also noticed traces of Michael Haneke were present, particularly Funny Games. Mix that together with a tale that mirrors a Greek tragedy, and you’ll have The Killing of a Sacred Deer. What Lanthimos has managed to make of said influences is a work that most certainly has found a way to stand out on its own, but noting how he creates a product so highly symbolic amidst a background that shows merely a straightforward deadpan horror film can only bring oneself in a trance-like state as they are watching the film. The film’s visual beauty is enough, but the effect of the film’s influences is clear enough even as it finds a way to branch out. For what it’s worth, I can only applaud Yorgos Lanthimos for how he toys around with what he has in order to create something beautiful, and yet so cynical at the same time.
But how come I am unable to make an opinion of it at the very moment? For everything that I found myself loving within The Killing of a Sacred Deer I had also been either bored, angered, and baffled at the same time. I assume that the alienation between audience and character was a part of what Lanthimos had intended, but it never was enough to hide how empty the film had made me feel overall. And I’ve already come to expect very little emotional involvement with a Lanthimos film, because even The Lobster was making a point out of that – yet it just never really appealed to me. But even the more sadistic moments of The Killing of a Sacred Deer were overwhelming enough for me because I still found so much of it to be overlong. I knew Lanthimos would have wanted to say something beneath such a surface but there’s only so much he can leave up to a viewer’s mind it would end up feeling too alien at that, and without much momentum too.
What more is there that I can say about how The Killing of a Sacred Deer had left me feeling? Maybe Yorgos Lanthimos really isn’t for me, but I can’t find myself discouraging people to see this. I can’t feel myself discouraging people to see it because I know there’s a part of me that really liked it. Stylistically it is easy for me to compliment The Killing of a Sacred Deer but overall I am still trying to make some sense of what Lanthimos had really wanted to say because even The Lobster had established itself as clear enough from the first viewing, although it had not held up as much as I had hoped. For every moment it had made me laugh I was never particularly sure if I had been able to pick up on what Lanthimos had intended to say. But as I let it sit in my mind, I hope to revisit it and maybe I can find myself able to build a much more firm opinion. The most I can say is that for every moment of beauty that drew me in, a moment of anger only took me out for it appeals to me in the same way it doesn’t. It’s a mix of both that left me indecisive for now.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via A24.
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Screenplay by Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou
Produced by Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone
Release Year: 2017
Running Time: 121 minutes