Cinematic Releases: Original Sin: The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) - Reviewed

Yorgos Lanthimos has garnered some accolades for his inventive and often disturbing filmography. Both Dogtooth (2009) and The Lobster (2015) embody the darker side of cinema while simultaneously poking fun at film conventions and tropes. With The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), Lanthimos has ascended to a new level of dark humor and nihilism.

The film is centered around Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) a prominent cardiologist that has a wonderful family. His wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) takes care of his home and his two children Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic) have full and active lives. Steven has been secretly meeting with a young teenager named Martin (Barry Keoghan) who has mysterious ties to Steven's past.

One of Lanthimos' trademarks is his deliberate and dry dialogue. Every character sounds somewhat stilted, almost as though they are acting in a stage play as opposed to a feature film. It's apparent that there is zero improvisation involved with the actor's portrayals and it makes the film have an unsettling feel, like there is something very wrong bubbling under the surface of the narrative. There is a ritualistic aspect to both the way the characters talk and in the way they move--almost as if the first two acts of the film are summoning the demon that is the climax of the story. Lanthimos seems to be obsessed with the concept of the facade that many people put forth in order to hide their deepest and darkest secrets. While everyone in The Killing of a Sacred Deer puts in outstanding performances, Keoghan is absolutely mesmerizing as Martin, with his deadpan demeanor and chilling matter-of-fact worldview. 

Gallows humor is another Lanthimos specialty and this film has it in spades. It loves to throw absurdist dialogue and situations in the viewer's face and dare them to laugh at it. There is a mean streak running through the heart of the narrative that might be too much for some people to internalize. It's subtly transgressive and plays around with the idea of favoritism, family relationships, sexual fetishes, and revenge. It's one of the most soul-crushing films I have ever seen and is unrelenting in its path to destruction.

Thimios Bakatakis' cinematography is exquisite and despite the horror permeating every facet of the movie, its gorgeous to behold. Lovely outdoor wide-shots are juxtaposed against sterile and claustrophobic hospital corridors with warmly lit interior scenes interspersed throughout. The sound design and music choices (by Lanthimos and sound designer Johnnie Burn) are incredible and oscillate between hard industrial noise elements and lush classical orchestral pieces by composers Sofia Gubaidulina and Gyorgy Ligeti. Occasionally, the music is played in such a way as to drown out the conversations that the characters are having which has the effect of making the viewer feel uncomfortable and agitated. It's masterful the way the music in this film is used to elicit certain emotions--emotions that may be in direct conflict to the visuals that are being displayed.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a nightmare slow-burn horror film, and it makes us experience the impending doom inch by excruciating inch. This is not a a feel-good film, it doesn't have a lesson to teach us, it Like life, sometimes terrible things happen and there is nothing we can do to stop them and we just have to watch the terror unfold in wide-eyed hysteria. That is the true nature of horror.

 --Michelle Kisner