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Movie Review

11/01/17

The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone, and Barry Keoghan
Monte’s Rating
3.50 out of 5.00

Monte Yazzie
Movie Columnist

Good families are seemingly always cursed in horror films. Whether a maniacal supernatural force or suppressed family secrets, something is bound to tear the family unit to its core. “The Shining”, “The Amityville Horror”, even “The Conjuring” have all used some horrific device to accomplish this aspect. It creates great drama watching an upstanding family fall to pieces. Jack Nicholson chasing Shelley Duvall around the Overlook Hotel, James Brolin menacingly walking around his home with an axe, and Patrick Wilson walking into “the further” to save his son: all these memorable horror movie moments are courtesy of the family-versus-evil narrative device.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos, who helmed 2015’s exceptional “The Lobster”, crafts his own horror film based off this familial premise. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” takes a fascinating and bizarre look at the family structure, introduces a bit of chaos into the mix, and watches as everything goes up in flames.

Steven (Colin Farrell) is a heart surgeon, his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) is an eye doctor; together they have two children named Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic). They have it all, the definition of an idyllic life. However, Steven has a young friend he has taken under his guidance, a teenager named Martin (Barry Keoghan) who is a bit odd and a little clingy. Martin’s obsession with the family grows strange, then suddenly people in the family become ill. Martin provides Steven with an ultimatum, one that requires him to make an unthinkable decision to save his family.

Reality is not what is seems in the cinematic world of Yorgos Lanthimos, it’s strangely composed and filled with bizarre characters. The why and the how of these concerns in almost all of his films are never explained, instead the film just establishes the world and places the viewer within. It’s disarming yet curiously engaging at times; look no further than earlier works like “Dogtooth” and “The Alps” for examples.

“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is Yorgos Lanthimos making his version of a horror film. It’s composed with a lingering camera that stalks closely around the characters, with a narrative element that feels like folklore from the Grimm brothers, and an atmosphere that boasts all the little characteristics of classic horror filmmaking. It employs a structure that is in one moment elegant and in the next chaotic while also sometimes being a mix of both. Lanthimos’ films are never easy to define. This is especially pertinent when it comes to an explanation of the events that transpire here.

Unfortunately, the film is at times stifled surprisingly by familiarity, shocking considering the director’s proclivities. While the design is beautifully composed, the narrative ambiguity never gives enough information to really get a grasp on why everything is happening. Again, the director has done this with all his films but with past movies, there was sense of satire or metaphor or some kind of allegory. Early in the film, you can feel the Stanley Kubrick influences with the movement of the camera and the composition of the framing. These are wonderful references for this film, but there needs to be a little more substance to accommodate the style.

Even with some minor concerns, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is still an odd delight to watch. The talented director, amidst all the narrative opaqueness, does something very ingenious with the characters. By stripping them of emotion and making them nearly robotic throughout the film, everyone becomes something monstrous, everyone becomes an accomplice in some way. This makes the horror of it all have a muted sensation while allowing the monster at the core opportunity to remain hidden amidst the sin of everyone in the film. For a film that struggles with narrative substance, the horror is impressively front and center.