A surgeon is forced to make a tough decision in “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” the newest film from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster,” “Dogtooth”). The film’s unique cinematography along with superb actors disturbs audiences slowly from the start.
The disquieting execution of this movie is a signature of Lanthimos, whose the mastermind behind other unusual films including “Dogtooth” (2009) and “The Lobster” (2015). Dark humor and twisted realities dominate these films and leave audiences wondering what they just saw.
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is no different.
A bold and shocking view of a human heart opens “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” Dramatic classical music plays in the background as the shot slowly pans out to an operation on the heart, which remains perfectly centered in view. While some viewers might want to turn away, the close-up persists with nowhere else to look, and the compelling subject sets the unsettling tone for the rest of the film.
Steven (Colin Farell) lives with his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their two children, Bob (Sunny Suljic) and Kim (Raffey Cassidy). Steven is a cardiac surgeon, and starts mentoring Martin (Barry Keoghan), a 16-year-old student from Kim’s school.
The characters’ interactions are laced with dark humor. Dialogue in the film is deliberate, stoic and concise. The cast’s deadpan delivery of disturbing lines should come off as out of place, but still and minimalist backgrounds of the scenes create an uncomfortable humor.
Keoghan’s stand-out performance as Martin helps craft insinuating tension throughout the film. Martin has a composed and innocent, yet often awkward charm. Although he’s a teenager, his voice sounds child-like, and his interactions with others are blatantly creepy. Hearing his innocent voice speaking of unthinkable horror adds to his sinister demeanor.
The title of the film is an allusion to Iphigenia, a character in Greek mythology. According to the myth, Iphigenia’s father, Agamemnon, must sacrifice her in order to sail to Troy. In the movie, Steven faces his own version of this dilemma.
Although Martin seems like an unusual yet innocent part of Steven’s life, he comes with a more sinister agenda, which shakes the family to its core.
Dialogue and cinematography play an important role in creating suspense while maintaining a quick but steady pace over the film’s two-hour run. The scenes focus on the dialogue with no distracting background activity; this stillness makes the few emotional outbursts more emphatic.
“The Killing of A Sacred Deer” isn’t like most horror movies with jump scares, excessive gore or scary monsters. Lanthimos creates an unsettling fear from the start and lets it linger beyond the end of the film’s credits.
The film utilizes the trademark elements of a Lanthimos film well, but also poses serious moral questions that will leave audiences thinking about what they would do in Steven’s shoes.
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” opened nationwide Oct. 27.