When I tell people about "The Killing of a Sacred Deer," they look at me like a zoo animal. They’re unsure of what I’m describing. They go along with it for a little bit, make that semi-interested “hmm” sound, then leave. They probably question my mental health, too.
All credit for this awkwardness goes to writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos.
His follow-up to 2015′s stunning "The Lobster," "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" is a dark, disturbing examination of a man slowly, torturously losing everything (to put it super simply). At times, it’s hilarious. Other scenes haunt and chill. Like "The Lobster," it’s an off-putting, original, otherworldly film that’s as bizarre as it is oddly satisfying, precise in its machinations.
Feeling like Stanley Kubrick directing a Terry Gilliam script, "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" is razor sharp from its script to its set design, from the performances to the pressure-building score.
So why do people think I’m nuts when I describe this movie? Because this isn’t your run of the mill horror-comedy or family tear-jerker. "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" balances the reality of such a horrific situation with some humor. The sweet spot for such a movie-making choice is so small, and the delivery has to be exact. However, Lanthimos again hits the bull's-eye.
In short: "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" is bleak, bitter and brilliant.
A loose update of Euripides' "Iphigenia at Aulis," the film revolves around a surgeon, Steven Murphy (an understated Colin Farrell), who, after drinking on the job, loses a patient. A decade or so passes, and the patient’s son, Martin (a brilliant Barry Keoghan), and Steven begin to have a relationship. The awkwardness and tension builds to a point of no return.
With knowledge of the botched operation and lack of attention from his newfound father figure, Martin exacts revenge, placing a curse on the surgeon’s family. Martin tells Steven that the surgeon must kill one of his family members or they will all die slowly.
How Lanthimos explores this curse is fascinating. He shows the horror of watching a loved one become helpless and how the characters react to that helplessness, but he also mines certain scenes for a few laughs. To be clear, "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" isn’t a laugh-out-loud comedy. However, Lanthimos balances the grief by forcing the audience’s hand, making them imagine what they might do in this scenario.
The lengths Farrell and his character’s wife (Nicole Kidman) go to try to figure out this curse puts a mirror to modern society. These are all cold characters, unsure of their skin. They talk about artificial things (wristbands for watches, haircuts). But when tested, they turn into vicious animals — insulting when the opportunity strikes, testing out every scientific theory and throwing violent tantrums.
There is no happy ending here. No broad message. No over-the-top explosion. "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" will confuse and confound. I won’t try to explain myself or this movie anymore. I'll say only that I can’t wait to see it again.
"THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER"
STARRING: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman and Barry Keoghan
DIRECTOR: Yorgos Lanthimos
NOW SHOWING: At 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 28, at Manship Theatre. $9.50. Discounts available. Call (866) 451-2787 or visit manshiptheatre.org.
RUNNING TIME: 2 hrs., 1 min.
MPAA RATING: R (Restricted) Under 17 requires adult guardian or accompanying parent.
WHY IS THIS MOVIE RATED R? For disturbing violent and sexual content, some graphic nudity and language.
Excellent (****), Good (***), Fair (**), Poor (*)