THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER Review
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Genre: Drama, Dark Comedy
Fans of THE LOBSTER beware: though that quirky, slightly dark romp hit a mainstream stride, Yorgos Lanthimos’s most recent effort is a bleak, malicious fable that was manufactured to upset. Its finale, one of the meanest and most disheartening ever committed to film, made an entire audience at Beyond Fest, perhaps the most easily excitable Los Angeles filmgoing crowd, turn. A once loudly cheering and laughing mass met the film’s credits with swift walk-outs and a tepid applause. Determinedly misanthropic and hardly relatable, Lanthimos has somehow found a way to make a movie so anti-human that it makes the viewer hate themselves and the people around them. And it works like gangbusters. For a movie that opens on an intense close-up of an open-heart surgery, it’s a miracle that THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER’s fetish for grueling emotional torture never becomes glib, instead fueling one of the most bizarre, grossly endearing films in recent memory.
Lanthimos speaks in a foreign film grammar, his depiction of humanity not far off from what you’d get if you asked an alien to make a movie about Earth. It makes it so that humor is the only translatable human interaction, and the movie manipulates this constantly, urging a legitimate laugh in what seem like the most inopportune of times. Colin Farrell, one of the most underrated lead performers in Hollywood, at one point threatens his son with “I will literally make you eat your hair.” Later, his wife, the godly Nicole Kidman, strips nude in what seems like an act of seduction that actually ends up in her laying flat on the bed, awaiting her husband’s intimacy. Lanthimos hits every beat with the crisp, comic bluntness of Wes Anderson and the horrific implications of Freud, all the while finding his strongest, most nefarious muse in the show-stopping Barry Keoghan.
Colin Farrell, Master of Facial Hair
What makes it all the odder is that this is the first Lanthimos film to take place, dominantly, in the real world, *our* world. And what a difference that makes to the subject matter: from THE LOBSTER to THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER, the auteur has jumped from high-concept sci-fi satire to sociopathic, stinky pulp trash. Wives lay limp on their naked backs, awaiting their husbands’ insertions. Fathers brag about their daughters’ first menstruation cycles. Outliers look for reasons to keep out of each others’ lives. Every bit of human interaction is distant and chilly, not at all unlike how Kubrick defined many of his late-period characters. Much of this film is indebted to Kubrick: the steadicam shots, the literal distance between viewer and subject, and, hell, one of the lead child actors is a splitting image for Danny from THE SHINING. Without EYES WIDE SHUT and THE SHINING, it’s clear that there’d be no Lanthimos, and though I wish he had a more distinct, singular vision, it’s difficult to deny how well he executes the stylistic tropes of modern cinema’s masters.
You may notice that I have not explained any sort of plot for this movie, and, really, it’s for your benefit. The manner in which THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER unfurls, revealing itself as mythical and allegorical throughout the many traumas inflicted on its cast of characters, is a sadistic joy. Lanthimos seems to be saying that our relationships are so base, steeped in expectations that come with societal constructs, that we never care to know one another. Family members are coworkers, members of a nuclear political body that serve mostly to function for one another. Relationships are so fragile that baseless paranoia can eviscerate a clan. And it’s all by chance. Always left to chance. The fear of everyday interaction permeates the entire film, with innocuous conversations scored to a wailing soundtrack and sound design that makes the skin crawl.
Pick a bed, any bed!
For how painfully derivative it is of Kubrick and Haneke, to just name the primary two directors this apes from, Lanthimos’s latest has enough ice in its veins to lay stake to a new pathway of behavioral exploration by exploiting the crossroads of transgressive European cinema and cringe comedy; to him, ethical quandaries are the perfect source of farce. He may have been the only filmmaker to ever be able to pull off this very movie, his forging the utter bravery to go 100% demented an inspiring act of courage. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is an eerie, truly wicked tale of the crippling nature of guilt, that feeling so petulant and persistent—a tick that invades the household and encourages a complete cleansing just to reap a facade of it never being there in the first place.
“It’s a metaphor.”