The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): Time to pay

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“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”, the latest film from acclaimed Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, is an odd, disturbing thriller which may baffle you at first and then will chill you a lot in the end. As the movie announces to us something dark and unpleasant right from its opening scene, we become curious about what can possibly happen among its main characters, and it does not disappoint us as sternly and ruthlessly driving them to an extreme situation. Although this is not a very pleasant experience to say the least, the movie is gripping nonetheless thank to its sheer conviction and dramatic power, and its grim sense of inevitability will linger on you for a while after it is over.

In the beginning, we meet a successful cardiologist named Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), and the early scenes of the movie show us the details of his daily professional and private life. We see him having some mundane chat with his colleague not long after he finishes his latest surgery, and we later watch him having a dinner at his big suburban house along with his two children and his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), who has also achieved her own success as a medical expert. While there is some friction among this family, they all look fine and happy in their home, and Steven seems to be a man who has everything he wants in his life.

However, there is an elusive relationship between Steven and a teenage boy named Martin Lang (Barry Keoghan). They often meet each other in private, and Steven seems to care a lot about this boy for some hidden reason. At one point, he gives Martin an expensive wristwatch, and Martin looks grateful about that. When Martin later suggests that Steven should have a dinner with him and his single mother, Steven agrees to go to Steven’s house, but the situation becomes uncomfortable as it is apparent that Martin’s mother is interested in getting a bit closer to Steven.

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Meanwhile, Steven invites Martin to his family house. While not knowing a lot about Martin, Steven’s wife and children cordially welcome him, and Martin comes to have a private moment with Steven’s two children. As your typical inquisitive kid, Bob (Sunny Suljic) asks Martin a rather amusing question involved with body hair, and Kim (Raffey Cassidy) is clearly attracted to Martin as your average adolescent girl, who, as respectively mentioned by her and her mother, had her first menstruation recently.

So far, everything seems normal on the surface, but the movie constantly reminds us that something is not so right among its main characters. While the cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis frequently gives us a slightly distorted viewpoint via the deft utilization of wide-angle lens, the soundtrack always keeps us on the edge whenever dissonant music is played in the background, and I was particularly impressed by how the classic works of Franz Schubert, J.S. Bach, and György Ligeti are used for striking dramatic effects.

I will not go into details on what happens next in the story, but I guess I can tell you instead that Steven soon finds himself stuck in a very serious circumstance along with his family after he happens to show less care and attention to Martin, who is revealed to have a good reason for being angry and vengeful. He flatly demands that Steven should make a certain big sacrifice for stopping what is happening to him and his family, and that is the point where the movie becomes a weird mix of psychological and supernatural horror. As we observe more cracks generated inside Steven’s family, their accumulating ordeal often looks like the outcome of some divine wrath, and the movie even mentions the story of King Agamemnon and his daughter Iphigenia during one brief scene.

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Although nothing much in this urgent but baffling situation is explained in the movie, Lanthimos, who wrote the screenplay with his usual collaborator Efthymis Filippou, keeps its attitude straight from the beginning to the end. While everything in the movie is presented with dry, plain realism, it also slyly suggests a certain mysterious force cornering Steven and his family step by step, and that insidious aspect is amplified further when they come to be isolated within their house with more desperation and frustration. No matter how much he tries hard to endure this situation, Steven is reminded again and again that he must make an impossible choice as demanded, and there eventually comes a horrifyingly absurd moment when he clumsily attempts to do that.

Under Lanthimos’ confident direction, the main performers in the movie never make any misstep to break the accumulating tension behind the screen. While Colin Farrell, who previously collaborated with Lanthimos in “The Lobster” (2015), is terrific as suggesting the gradual implosion behind his character’s adamant attitude, Nicole Kidman, who recently appeared along with Farrell in “The Beguiled” (2017), is dependable as usual, and Barry Keoghan, who played a small supporting role in “Dunkirk” (2017), is utterly chilling at times in what may be a breakout turn in his growing acting career. As Steven’s two children, Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic hold their own small place well, and Bill Camp and Alicia Silverstone are also fine in their small supporting roles.

Like Lanthimos’ previous films “Dogtooth” and “The Lobster”, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”, which received the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival early in last year (it shared the award with Lynne Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really Here” (2017), by the way), is another fascinating work from him, and I admire what it achieves on the screen even though I am not as wholly enthusiastic about it as some other critics. It is surely a tough stuff, but I assure you that you will not forget it easily once you watch it.

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