Hitchcockian and Kubrickian are commonly used descriptive terms when explaining that a film is a lot like an Alfred Hitchcock film or a Stanley Kubrick film. Both filmmakers have distincttive styles that are masterful and unsettling for different reasons. Writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos might end up carving a name for himself (Lanthimosian perhaps?) if he continues creating his own brand of unusual, provocative, psychodramatic, thrillers. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is quietly horrifying with an eerie tone and story that rivals the best Twilight Zone episode.
Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a successful cardiovascular surgeon. His wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) is an ophthalmologist. They have two children – 14-year-old Kim (Rafael Cassidy) and 12-year-old Bob (Sunny Sluice). Much like his work, Steven’s personality comes off rather cold and precise. However, in this peculiar universe, everyone’s personality has a bit of that distant approach. There is a mysterious outlier to this supportive, suburban family dynamic. Steven secretly spends some of his time as a father-figure to another boy Martin (Barry Keoghan), who is clearly more than a little off for reasons we do not yet know but slowly become more menacing with a sinister outlook for justice. As a modern take on a Greek tragedy unfolds, the story becomes more uncomfortable to heart-wrenching. I’m purposefully being vague on the plot because I think the shocking hook works best when you don’t know it’s coming. Just know that it’s bizarre and twisted, capitalizing on people’s worst fears of feeling powerless but still having to make a decision in a no-win situation.
THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is sometimes at its most disturbing in conversation. The actors are clearly directed to give emotionless deliveries. yet it’s when they aren’t speaking when the emotions are at their highest. Farrell and Kidman give strong performances, solidifying their talent as they anchor the film in this odd reality. The breakout performance is from Barry Keoghan (one of the two boys on the boat with Mark Rylance in DUNKIRK). His choices as an actor are carefully restrained yet impressively astute to a fascinatingly unusual and quietly sinister character. The actors seem to understand and thrive in the unique tone of the film.
I realize I’m jumping the gun a bit to think I might name Yorgos Lanthimos in the same breath as Hitchcock or Kubrick as I did earlier. Clearly he is heavily influenced by the filmmakers and I’m sure others. However, THE LOBSTER is one of the best films from 2016 and easily one of the more interesting films in the past decade. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is his follow up film and once again, along with his writing partner Efthymis Fillips, crafts an original viewpoint that sticks with you long after the film. From the breathtaking cinematic composition from cinematographer Thimios Bakatuakis to the hauntingly insane piano notes for the musical score, Lanthimos is an auteur who creates mood and tone with a fresh vision in modern film.
There is an element of supernatural works and a suspension of belief in Lanthimos’ films. You have to just believe the rules presented are not the same in our world as they are in the film. No explanation is necessary because it’s not, how does this happen that matters, it’s more about the why and what is the appropriate reaction or solution to a situation. Lanthimos isn’t making a weird film for the sake of it. He has intent with larger themes. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER plays on our personal fears, diving into our psyche making us choose in an impossible decision and having our past choices coming back to haunt us. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER isn’t a horror movie in a conventional sense but it is the most unusual and unsettling film of the year.