The Killing of a Sacred Deer: Depraved, But Effective

The Killing of a Sacred Deer Plot Summary:

An accomplished heart surgeon (Colin Farrell) is haunted by the ghosts of his past when his bond with a troubled teenager (Barry Keoghan) leads to grave danger among his family.

Between this and mother!, I don’t know what the hell is in the water in the independent film world.  Did they all get together and say “Let’s depress the bejesus out of the movie going audience!”  The difference between mother! and The Killing of the Sacred Deer though is that the former is actually a well-made movie.  It’s not without its warts, but this is an interesting watch to say the least, and a solid follow up from director Yorgos Lanthimos, who wrote and directed last year’s brilliant film, The Lobster.  If you go see The Killing of the Sacred Deer, I’d recommend knowing as little as possible.  What unfolds is a doozy.

I’d also recommend watching The Lobster before you see this.  First of all, it’s a damn good movie, but secondly, it acclimates you to the style of this director.  Much like Wes Anderson, the characters speak in that matter of fact, blunt dialogue that can be grating at first, but kind of funny.  The characters are definitely more emotional in this movie than in The Lobster, but the similarities are definitely there.  It’s almost like they are delivering Aaron Sorkin dialogue while induced with sleeping drugs.  Sometimes the oddball Lanthimos dialogue gets to you, especially in how the daughter (Raffey Cassidy) talks, but it’s never just there for the sake of being weird.  The dialogue and the way its delivered always fits the character.

The first twenty minutes of this film are very vague.  We’re introduced to Colin Farrell’s character, Dr. Steven Murphy, a very skilled cardiologist.  He goes to a diner to meet Martin, a teenage boy.  The way they interact suggests this is his son from a divorced marriage or something.  Later, you learn Dr. Murphy has his own family, a wife and two kids.  But he keeps seeing Martin.  Their interactions become stranger and stranger.  You still don’t know what the hell is going on, but you want to know.  As this all unfolds, it becomes more and more disturbing, and that’s why the movie works.

We’ll get to Colin Farrell and the other performances later, but we have to start with Barry Keoghan, who plays the teenager, Martin.  This is an Oscar worthy performance.  Holy Jim Carrey in The Cable Guy on steroids.  The way this character speaks.  The way he moves.  His eyes.  His mannerisms.  Everything.  Keoghan is unsettling.  You’re uncomfortable at every turn.  This speaks to the performance he’s able to pull off.  There’s a moment where he’s eating pasta, and you’re gripping your chair out of fear he’s going to jump out of the theater and talk to you.  There’s certainly a sympathetic angle to Martin, but he’s an evil son of a gun who’s going to grow up to be a Batman villain.  He’s the star of this movie.

As the relationship unfolds between Dr. Murphy and Martin, bad stuff starts happening to Dr. Murphy’s family.  This is where the plot really gets going.  While the movie never answers the big “How is this happening?” question, it’s not really about that.  It’s about watching Dr. Murphy and his wife, Anna, played by Nicole Kidman, handle the situation, as they become more and more rattled.

Farrell drives the film spectacularly.  He clearly has demons in his past that come to the forefront.  The idea of this surgeon who always has the answers, but can’t figure out what’s happening drives him crazy.  Farrell conveys this seamlessly in a very subtle way.  It’s juxtaposed perfectly with Nicole Kidman’s performance who’s more fierce and outwardly angry.  She even gets mad at Steven’s apparent apathy, which adds another layer to this movie when the friction between them inevitably takes place.

While this film keeps you engaged throughout and you want to know how it ends, the last third moves at a snail’s pace.  This is what stops it from being great.  While the movie keeps you guessing, we get to a point where it just meanders.  At some point, something’s gotta give, and it takes too long to get there.  Fifteen-twenty minutes could have been thrown out of this film, including a couple useless scenes with Steven’s Doctor friend, Matthew, played by Bill Camp.  While it takes a while to get to the big bang at the end, it’s a satisfying, albeit depraved ending.  You’re left with unanswered questions, but it’s an ending you won’t forget.

This is a very good film, but one of those cases where I wouldn’t recommend it to a lot of people.  You have to really appreciate filmmaking to get past its dark, psychological mind games that definitely make you cringe.  The performances are spot on, including Alicia Silverstone, who’s only in one scene as Barry’s mother, but it’s all you need.  Much like The Lobster, the score is also effective.  You even get a Joker-esque Dark Knight theme whenever Barry pops up.

I doubt this movie will crop up at Oscar time, but if Barry Keoghan isn’t at least in the running for Best Supporting Actor, that would be a crime.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow’s fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.