Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 1 minute
MPAA Rating: R for Disturbing Violent and Sexual Content, some Graphic Nudity and Language
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Written by: Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou
Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone & Bill Camp
Yorgos Lanthimos has been recently known for his bizarre dark romance/comedy THE LOBSTER, one of my favorite films from last year. So I was more than a little excited when I found out that his next project was a psychological horror trip. Having finally seen THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER on a screen near me, I can safely say that I love this movie. DEER is a mixture of unnerving beauty, disturbing storytelling, grim hilarity, and haunting horror. If Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, and Michael Haneke had a coke-fueled orgy and decided to collaborate on a film, the end result would look a lot like THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER.
Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a cardiologist who seems to have it all. He lives in a great house, has a rewarding career, and cherishes his loving family: wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), teen daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy), and young son Bob (Sunny Suljic). Steven has also taken awkward teenager Martin (Barry Keoghan) under his wing, but this friendship takes a dark turn as it appears that Steven’s family has somehow been cursed by Martin’s mere presence. To say anything further, would be delving into spoiler territory and I don’t want to do that…because KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is one hell of a freaky ride.
When I say that DEER is a disturbing horror film, that’s not to imply that there’s a lot of bloody violence or nightmarish plot twists. On the contrary, KILLING’s story is simple, extremely simple, and yet viciously effective. This script puts the viewer into Steven’s headspace and poses a tense question of what the viewer might do in a similar unthinkable scenario. The film also flourishes with an unusual visual style that immediately throws off the viewer’s perception. Lanthimos shoots certain scenes in a way that makes the background seem exaggeratedly large and the characters appear smaller. This weird use of wide shots naturally generates an uneasy mood.
Besides its foreboding cinematography, KILLING OF A SACRED DEER also (pun fully intended) kills in its script and characters. Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman are especially good as the doctor and his concerned wife, while Raffey Cassidy serves as the couple’s oddball daughter. Meanwhile, Barry Keoghan (who had a small role in DUNKIRK) is fantastically creepy as Martin. I’ll remain vague on the plot’s nasty bits, but this simple story evokes a lot of tension out of its characters and their increasingly desperate decisions.
KILLING doesn’t spell specific points for the viewer and lets us interpret certain actions for ourselves. As a result, I found specific moments to be morbidly hilarious and other audience members seemed deeply disturbed by them. SACRED DEER is a movie that will impact different viewer’s sensibilities in profoundly different ways, but still remains just as scary and haunting for everybody who digs on twisted cinematic oddities. I was impressed at how well the film balanced its scenes of family drama, darker than dark laughs, and bleak horror. These varying tones are combined in a way that feels special, in a similar way to the director’s previous arthouse genre mash-up THE LOBSTER.
My sole complaints about KILLING OF A SACRED DEER are minor nitpicks involving the soundtrack and an unnecessary epilogue. A lot of this film’s soundtrack is atmospheric, moody and seems to echo similar notes to the chilling score from Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING. However, there are spots where SACRED DEER’s music almost seems to overpower scenes in a distracting manner. While moments without dialogue make sense to include the loud horror-sounding score, there are points where it nearly drowns out the dialogue. This may have been an intentional filmmaking choice, but it’s a distracting one.
DEER has one hell of a memorable movie moment during its finale. It’s a sequence that will surely be on the minds of every audience member long after the film has concluded and will likely get brought up in damn near every spoiler-filled conversation. It would have been the perfect shocking final note to conclude on, but the film ends with an unnecessary epilogue that spans out for an extra three minutes and feels like it just didn’t belong. This might be a personal preference, but I would have much rather gone out in a stunned silence that followed the memorable moment right before the epilogue.
THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER isn’t quite up to the same level as last year’s THE LOBSTER. However, it’s not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. I’d argue that it’s pretty fucking fantastic, though it suffers from an occasionally loud score and an unnecessary final three-minute epilogue. If you are into dark, twisted, psychological horror flicks, then you’ll definitely find something to love here. Sometimes, all you need is a simple scary story told in a compelling way that’s not without a sick sense of humor. KILLING OF A SACRED DEER executes that in twisted elegance.