The Killing of A Sacred Deer

From its powerful Greek-operatic cardiovascular surgical opening and upper-class family portrait to wild psychodramatic thrills blurring science/superstition lines, Lanthimos’ eerie thriller establishes a talented up-and-coming provacateur. 7.9/10.

Plot Synopsis: Dr. Steven Murphy is a renowned cardiovascular surgeon who presides over a spotless household with his wife and two children. Lurking at the margins of his idyllic suburban existence is Martin, a fatherless teen who insinuates himself into the doctor’s life in gradually unsettling ways. Soon, the full scope of Martin’s intent becomes menacingly clear when he confronts Steven with a long-forgotten transgression that will shatter his domestic bliss forever.

*Possible spoilers ahead*

Review: “A surgeon never kills a patient. An anesthesiologist can kill a patient, but a surgeon never can.” The title of Yorgos Lanthimos’ newest tour-de-force instantly evokes religious, Christianical imagery straight out the annals of the Old Testament archives. And the film he’s put together echoes that sentiment with a bludgeoning, creepy, sadistic thrill ride that gets crazier at every turn and has stark things to say about responsibility and punishment. From its powerful Greek-operatic cardiovascular surgical opening and perfect upper-class family portrait to wild psychodramatic thrills blurring the lines between science/superstition as cracks begin to show, despite a somewhat-problematic premise and monotonic delivery, Lanthimos’ eerie new thriller The Killing of A Sacred Deer establishes him as a talented up-and-coming provacateur.

Eerie operatic overtures and grand visuals. One of The Killing of A Sacred Deer’s greatest strengths is its immaculate score: one of the best scores in a thriller in ages. Complete with unnerving crescendoes, emotionally-magnificent operatic/Greek tragedy-like sequences, and animalistic discordant pads that will tear at your insides, Lanthimos’ self-composed orchestration is absolutely masterful. From the powerful opening heart-thumping (literally), power-steeped opertation table zoom-out, it brings to mind Hitchcockian Dial M For Murders or Rear Windows of yesteryears and instantly anchors the film in sensory magic furthered by TKOASD’s visuals. Cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis has his own feast in resplendent and beautifully-constructed (and inventively filmed) shots ranging from slow-motion walking through the seemingly-pleasing streets of suburbia to night-set motorcucles on the deserted afterhours cityscapes and cool surgical clinics to swanky conventional events in marble-riddled Ritz Carlton-esque halls. It’s rare you get that impressive a visual/auditory combination, and it’s clear everyone involved came to play ball in this sweet-smacking time at the cinema that forebodes and captivates with the best of them film-wise.

The performances and Lanthimos’ direction. Colin Farrell clearly carries the film as the main character Dr. Steven Murphy, a renowned cardiovascular surgeon with a dark secret from his past. His and Martin’s (strongly antagonized by Barry Keoghan as a interestingly-mysterious villainous presence) interactions and sharp turns over the course of the film from friends (perhaps out of guilt) to enemies is fascinating to watch. Nicole Kidman does her part as Anna, as well as their two kids in Sunny Suljic’s skater-dude Bob and Raffey Cassidy’s hypnoticized Kim as the tide turns and a seemingly idyllic normal suburban family is taken on a horror ride by expert tour guide Lanthimos.

Ominous atmospherics and a perfectly-set family portrait broken. The way Lanthimos sets up a normal family outline only to smash it later is a true showcase of directorial and writing prowess. We’re introduced to a nuclear family of four we’re set to believe has nothing off about them – if even, a little jealous of them clearly being loaded and weilding a near-perfect simulated suburban white-picket-fence existence. However, lurking in the shadows ready to turn everything upside down is a kid on the outer rim, who effectively works his way in and bestializes their very existence to the point of desperation and even brilliant doctors and surgeons on their knees begging for mercy. Although the premise is a little hokey and requires some forgiving (will get to later), as a revenge thriller, it iinterestingly blends the lines between science and superstition and is quite a sight to behold and experience where there’s the overwhelming feeling of them being watched and dark times on their horizon by a mysterious and (thankfully, thus making him scarier) unexplained presence sadistic in every sense of the word.

Flaws, of course, include the premise’s believability – and a monotonic lull. First, the premise is admitedly hokey, contrived, and ill-advised. As someone with firsthand experience with how brutally competitive and difficult it is to even get into medical school (currently on year 7 post-HS so far with a B.Sc, Master’s, and another 9-12 years to go if I want to become any sort of surgeon), the idea of blaming them for freak occurrences or surgical casualties as the film leads us to believe is simply insane. A doctor I once shadowed summarized it best: “Very few jobs are truly life-and-death wherein every movement of your hands has stakes so massive it would crush most people. If you think you can do any better, go ahead and try.. to get into medical school first, let alone go through all the years and thorough board exams and checks-and-balances to actually become able.” I almost turned it off out of its disrespect to medical personnel early on in the film, until it thankfully corrected itself by asserting the only reason Murphy deserved punishment was for him being inebriated and potentially-drunk on the job (obviously inexcusable and deserved of revoke of license and jail time, at least).

Even with that, the idea that a random kid in high school could come up with some sort of supernatural or psychosomatic ‘poison’ even the most brilliant physicians from around the world flying in can’t diagnose or cure it is pretty silly requiring a forgiving demeanor to overlook. Many of the characters also talk in monotonic lulls for much of the film until things start to heat up in the back-half – a strange line-delivery decision that lacks in energy early-on feeling like they’re half on anesthetic themselves.

Summary: Overall, Lanthimos’ new thriller is truly that: a chilling thrill ride through mysterious unknowns. From its powerful Greek-operatic cardiovascular surgical opening and perfect upper-class family portrait to wild psychodramatic thrills blurring the lines between science/superstition as cracks begin to show, despite a somewhat-problematic premise and monotonic delivery, Lanthimos’ eerie new thriller The Killing of A Sacred Deer establishes him as a talented up-and-coming provacateur we’ll likely be hearing a lot more of in the coming future.

Overall Score: 8/10