The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

500 Days Of Film Reviews The Killing Of A Sacred Deer Starring Colin Farell, Nicole Kidman And Barry Keoghan

Dr Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a renowned cardiovascular surgeon presiding over a spotless household with his ophthalmologist wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their two exemplary children, 12-year old Bob (Sunny Suljic) and 14-year old Kim (Raffey Cassidy). 


However, lurking at the margins of this idyllic suburban existence is Martin (Barry Keoghan), a fatherless teen who Steven has covertly taken under his wing. As Martin begins insinuating himself into the family’s life in ever-more unsettling ways, the full scope of his intent becomes menacingly clear when he confronts Steven with a demand that will shatter the Murphy family's domestic bliss.

Is It Any Good?

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is a film that demands our patience and our participation. It offers few clues and forgoes exposition before taking us on a nightmarish journey full of psychological horror.  


Your enjoyment will very much depend on whether you are willing to embrace director Yorgos Lanthimos’s unsettling story. Whether you view this bewildering conundrum of a movie as fascinating or frustrating - a work of genius or sheer madness.


Only one thing is certain, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is not an easy film to watch. From its very opening scenes (lingering on open heart surgery in extreme close-up), to its aggressive score, the tone is set for an uncomfortable and disturbing cinematic experience.



At first, you may be forgiven for thinking that the performances in The Killing Of A Sacred Deer are poor. However, the flat, stilted delivery (of often incredibly banal dialogue) is a style familiar in Lanthimos’s work. It is a deliberate affectation - designed to unsettle, to make you question what you are seeing.


The cast manage this method well. Collin Farrell has, of course, experience of Lanthimos’s preferred acting style - in 2015’s The Lobster. While he doesn’t quite surpass his performance in that film, he is a powerful screen presence here.


Meanwhile, Nicole Kidman is also impressive in a difficult and often unlikeable role. However, the film’s standout performance is Barry Keoghan’s Martin. Last seen in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, Keoghan is astonishing in The Killing Of A Sacred Deer - a true revelation.


Naive and vulnerable, sinister and menacing, Martin wreaks horrific vengeance on Steven and his family. It is Martin who shocks the film out of its rather soporific first act - steering it down endless corridors (Thimios Bakatakis’s cinematography is superb) towards the nightmare of the second and the horror of the third. 



So what does it all mean? At one point, Martin repeats that this is all a metaphor - a rather ‘on the nose’ statement that comes as no surprise. In another scene, the tragedy of Iphigenia is mentioned.


This is a Greek tragedy transplanted into a modern context.



What we are meant to take away from The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is far harder to grasp. Are we to view this film as a piece of modern, expressionist art? Are we being encouraged to take away what we bring to this story? Should we spend hours puzzling over the clues, or is this a film equivalent of The Emperor's New Clothes?


The answer remains unclear.


Regardless, Lanthimos’s film both bewildered and delighted me. It forced me to think, to consider different themes and interpretations. For example, I have spent much time wondering about Martin. Is he a God or the devil? In addition, what do the watches signify? Are they a metaphor for the ridiculous idea that we, mere humans, have control over time and fate?


Meanwhile, what’s with the cigarettes? A symbol of immorality - a cancer eating away at society? And what should we deduce from all of the references to hands? Do these (sometimes bizarre) scenes represent Steven’s arrogance as a surgeon, believing that he can play God?


Perhaps I will never arrive at a satisfying, definitive conclusion about The Killing Of A Sacred Deer. And that is fine with me. I love films that demand my attention and insist in my participation. 


In addition, I am so grateful that directors such as Yorgos Lanthimos exist to challenge audiences and push the boundaries of cinematic storytelling. Life would certainly be dull without them.


Random Observations

Have you seen The Killing Of A Sacred Deer?


If you have, what did you think of this movie. Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below or via Facebook or Twitter (@500DaysOfFilm).

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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones



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