The Killing of a Sacred Deer, distributed by Madman, has award winning actors Colin Farrell featuring as Steven Murphy a respected cardiac surgeon, and Nicole Kidman as his optometrist wife Anna Murphy, who are both trapped hopelessly in a domestic nightmare of unspeakable horror.
Not wanting to reveal too many spoilers, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is all about actions, consequences and intellectual ideas about what really constitutes justice. Indirectly it asks if we subscribe to the biblical ‘eye for an eye’ theory, or is it the alternative; if we keep taking an eye for an eye eventually, the whole world will end up blind?
Frightfully shocking, terrifying and in so many aspects totally revolting, this is not a movie for everyman or everywoman, perhaps best for those who find the cult following for the ‘horror’ genre, curious. There is a lot of people who do I found out, when attending a packed out session recently at the Greek Film Festival.
Set in suburbia where on the outside everything looks ‘perfect’ including the people, it’s on the inside of Anna and Steve’s sterile family home that we soon find out what matters as they go about the daily rituals of their life as a family.
Everything you think you know about human nature will be turned inside out and upside down in a scenario that will swiftly have ice water churning through your veins, which is highly appropriate given Steve’s profession as a surgeon.
There are many rituals relating to ‘the hunt’ recorded in epic poetry and mythologies since ancient times. They appear in many different cultural traditions, including the Greeks and their mythology, which tells the tale of King Agamemnon forced to appease the wrath of the Goddess Artemis by sacrificing his daughter.
This modern-day Greek styled tragedy crosses the boundaries between the normal and the supernatural, the real and surreal and between what you think you know about good and evil.
A young man nominated Rising Star at the 2017 Irish Film and Television Awards Barry Keoghan plays the cunning, crafty, menacing, manipulative greedy and very needy child Martin, whom Steve has befriended.
Over the centuries strict dos and don’ts were applied to methods employed by ‘the hunter’, which we soon understand Martin is, although he doesn’t have any knowledge of these, but instead follows his own ideas about settling scores.
While we don’t understand the ‘deed done’ at first, Martin covertly makes us join in, suffering slowly and agonisingly along with his victims; the Murphy’s a prestigious but robotic like professional couple and their son, the soft quiet twelve-year old Bob (Sunny Suljic) and naïve sixteen-year old teenage daughter Kim (Rafey Cassidy).
Often leaving the audience nervously not knowing whether to laugh or to cry, this film noir gate-crashed by reality, will be sure to test the limits of your ability to imagine such an incident happening in your own comfortable life. You will be forced to ask what you would do if you were faced with this families predicament?
Imagined and interpreted by renowned Greek intellectual aesthete and ‘provocateur without precedent’ Yorgos Lanthimos, an admired theatre director, film and video producer and screenwriter with his own cult following, a shrilling orchestral score stridently marks the beginning of The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
The film overall tested all my thoughts on how our living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.
It starts with the rhythmic throbbing sound of a beating heart being prodded and poked in a hospital operating room, where after completing the procedure, surgeon Steve discards his blood covered garments and gloves into the hospital bin. As he walks along the corridor with his friend the aneatheologist, they enter into a banal conversation about watches and watch bands being waterproof to 100 feet.
In the moment it seems totally bizarre, especially when it leads to Steve having a meeting with the sixteen-year-old Martin at a local coffee shop, where Steve gives his young charge a gift.
It’s an expensive watch waterproof to 200 feet.
Steve hides his many expressions and thoughts behind a dense bushy beard but despite that we can sense there is a guilt ridden tension between this unusual pairing. So much so we immediately question why is an eminent respected surgeon meeting with a boy of his age at all?
It all seems quite odd, particularly in light of the very strange sexual encounters we witness Steve having with his wife Anna as a consenting partner in the sanctity of their bedroom and home.
Passion and-or pride in performance certainly doesn’t cross the path of these equally controlling people. Then we have a brief moment of glamour as Anna his wife takes time out from her professional career, to buy a beautiful black dress Steve approves of and she looks stunning wearing it, when he gives a landmark speech to colleagues.
Nicole Kidman reveals yet another side to her impressive acting abilities, offering a quieter icy scary menace when forced to confront the truth behind the events suddenly happening to Steven, herself and their children.
The part she has to play in the terms of settlement with the severely psychologically disturbed Martin is paramount to the final reality of the conclusion.
Colin Farrell brings menace bubbling back to the surface of his emotions. He is after all a protective father looking to his charges and their welfare.
The two actors playing his children are impossible to fault. Where they could pull such impressive inner strength from in order to merely inhabit their roles was to me extraordinary.
This leaves Martin, the unnerving young man who is definitely odd man out. His behaviour and mesmerising menace will have you squirming unhappily in your seat, as you continually swap allegiances as the story progresses.
What a performance he gives, his obsessional behaviour is scary beyond belief. He keeps pushing Steve who attempts to stay within his own staunch set of principles and boundaries, until he finally reaches that point of provocation, where he is forced to face his own arrogance and failings as both a father and a human being.
This is a really tough movie to sit through, my hardest since Calvary in 2014. Although I have to admit to being compelled to stay until the very end, envying the one lone woman who stormed out halfway through. I could feel her indignation as she charged past me.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is indeed a shocker of the most disquieting kind.
How curious are you? Are you able to exceed boundaries?
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017
Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Camp