MPAA Rating: R
For disturbing violent and sexual content, some graphic nudity and language.
Runtime: 121 minutes
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Alicia Silverstone, Colin Farrell
I can say without fear of contradiction that Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer is the most unforgettable film of the year. This strange, unsettling film is of a different order even from his peculiar Oscar-nominated previous efforts The Lobster and Dogtooth.
Deer is an oddly compelling combination of Greek tragedy, mystery, thriller, even horror in which cardiothoracic surgeon Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), after performing open-heart surgery, finds himself with a 16-year-old fatherless acolyte named Martin Lang (Barry Keoghan), who says he wants to be a cardiologist. Soon he’s showing up at the hospital unbidden, looking for Murphy, apparently just wanting to hang out with him.
Martin has extraordinarily good manners, so Murphy invites Martin to his home for dinner, where he will meet Murphy’s ophthalmologist wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), their 12-year-old son Bob (Sunny Suljic) and 15-year-old daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy).
Martin returns the favor. Murphy goes without Anna, and is shocked when Martin’s mother makes a play for him, ending the scene with the best line in the show: “You’re not leaving until you try my tart!”
There are other indications. Even the way they all talk is unusual. Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou wrote the script first in Greek, then translated it into English, and the cadence of the English words is odd and not a little unsettling, like everything else about this film.
Thimios Bakatakis’s cinematography features lots of long shots with ominous shadows. Even Lanthimos’ sound designer Johnnie Burn turns up the weird with loud, extremely nervous-making electronic sounds, occasionally foreshadowing by dropping in a few bars of Schubert’s choral “Stabat Mater.”
As Martin’s behavior becomes increasingly intrusive, even sinister, we find out that he has a bone to pick with Murphy, and this is where the Greek tragedy element (Agamemnon’s the sacrifice of daughter Iphigenia for killing a sacred deer) – or perhaps the Old Testament “eye for an eye” doctrine – comes in.
Martin blames Murphy for his father’s death on the operating table, and is determined to exact retribution. He tells Murphy that he must kill one of the children, or the whole family will suffer agonizing deaths (which he describes).
If this sounds like something you’d like to skip, I’d advise you not to. This is a fascinating film with a breakout performance by Keoghan, who gives a chilling reading as Martin.
Kidman has never been better, either, and Farrell is equally fine.
Look for Oscar nominations for this riveting if disturbing film.