REVIEW: "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" Is Horribly Comical

If you aren’t familiar with director Yorgos Lanthimos’ films, then the opening scene of The Killing of a Sacred Deer may be quite shocking. Our first impression is a close-up view of an open heart surgery — a completely horrific opening shot. However, it sets the mood for the rest of the scenes to come.

Unlike Lanthimos’ last Oscar-nominated film The Lobster, which takes place in a dystopian world, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is set around a modern-day Cincinnati, making this more eerie for viewers. This is the world viewers live in, yet everything is completely wrong.

The film follows successful heart surgeon, Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), his wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman) and two kids Kim and Bob (Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic). At first glance, this looks like an everyday modern family, which in some sense is true. However, the idea of normality within this family is quickly broken, as their circumstances are far from it.

In Steven’s private time, he has befriended a 16-year-old boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan). At first, the relationship is unexplained and feels deeply odd and wrong. They go out to lunch together, gift each other presents, and one day, Steven even invites Martin over to meet his family.

The relationship is likely formed out of guilt when it is eventually revealed that Steven was performing surgery on Martin’s dad a few years earlier, where he died on the operating table. Steven had a few drinks before the surgery but swears it is never the surgeon's fault when a patient dies.

As if these circumstances weren’t strange enough, things turn particularly chilling when Steven comes over for dinner at Martin’s house one night. Martin’s mother (Alicia Silverstone) blatantly begins flirting and touching Steven, who is not interested. However, when Steven informs Martin that he is happily married, Martin tells him that one of his family members has to die. He describes the symptoms in gruesome ways: first, they won’t be able to walk. Then, they will bleed from their eyes, and soon after, die.

Martin’s threat seems crazy, until the next morning when Bob wakes up with the inability to walk. Soon after, Kim lays in the same hospital room as her brother because she too has lost the ability to walk. But the doctors say that everything is medically okay, and it’s probably all psychological. Soon, Steven has to come to terms with the fact that he has to choose one family member to kill, or else they will all face the same fate.

Lanthimos’ film was not always intended to be the alarming drama it is. At the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, he revealed at a press conference that the film was originally set to be a comedy, but it was reconstructed after everyone first got on set. Still, the original comical aspects of the film are present while watching. However, this is not your typical laugh out loud comedy, but rather uncomfortable moments or lines that are so extremely weird and dark, you are forced to laugh.

The title of the film is a reference to the Greek story of Iphigenia. The story dates back to Homer’s Iliad and Aeschylus’ Agamemnon where it is explained that Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon, was sacrificed for efforts of the war. However, in Iphigenia at Aulis, it is more clearly explained that she was sacrificed because her father accidentally killed a sacred deer that belongs to Artemis. The entire plot of the film references the story of Iphigenia, but Lanthimos truly highlights the disturbing and specific nature of the mythology.

Besides Greek mythology, The Killing of a Sacred Deer proved to be very similar to the works of Stanley Kubrick. Specifically, the classical musical score and shots down the long corridors of the hospital were similar to techniques famously used in films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey. But Lanthimos doesn’t mimic such techniques in a seen-before, tiring way as some directors often do. Instead, his style mixes the old with the new, which is what makes this film so intriguing and, eventually, terrifying.

When making films like this, directors often run into the trouble of overdoing it with allegorical references and confusing plotlines. However, I believe that Lanthimos is an example of a director who handled this kind of film correctly. He was able to find a balance between being bizarre yet still compelling.

This film breaks about every moral we have learned, especially by the film’s conclusion. Everything is completely unethical, yet it touches a reality viewers are familiar with. These characters have a two-sided nature, both relatable yet entirely unconventional. It is the in-between state that makes this film so frightening because we don’t know how we should feel after leaving the theater. Lanthimos loves to touch upon the absurd within all of his films, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer does just that.


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Cover Photo Credits: The Playlist