Has a doctor ever killed your father, and you used voodoo to get back him? Yea, me too. Yorgos Lanthimos‘s follow-up to The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, is every bit as creepy, dark, and ironic as the former.
Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a heart surgeon who can’t shake a kid who looks like he came out of Children of the Corn, Martin (Barry Keoghan). Steven performed surgery on Martin’s dad, who died on the operating table. Steven and Martin routinely meet at a diner, where no one thinks that a grown man and a kid having rendezvouses is weird. Steven offers gifts to Martin to keep him happy, like inviting Martin to meet his family or offering him a watch. Martin meets Steven’s wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman), his son Bob (Sunny Suljic), and his daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy), who Martin takes a shine too. First rule of parenting, don’t let the creepy Children of the Corn kid hang out with your daughter.
Soon Steven realizes that Martin is nuts, and I don’t mean Gremlins nuts. He cuts off all contact with Martin. Mysteriously, all of Steven’s children then become sick with no known ailment, other than an inability to walk. Because Steven has stopped giving Martin offerings, Martin has basically put a voodoo curse on Steven’s family. I won’t say the rest because I don’t want to spoil many of the surprises that come, particularly the first shot of the film (not for the squeamish).
One of the hallmarks of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, is the way it’s shot. For much of the film, there are long tracking shots. In fact, for the first 20-minutes, we’re only given one clear close-up of a character. The rest are long shots. The use of long tracking shots gives the film its voyeuristic characteristics. The film is also heavily reliant on fish-eye shots. The choice of fish-eye shots is interesting, since it’s rarely used in any mainstream movies. Our eyes do not view the world as a close-up shot. Instead, our eyes take in an entire scene regardless of other objects within our view. Lanthimos captures that realism, and the voyeurism, of our sights with the choice of shot. That’ll make Colin Ferrell happy!
Also, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is particularly unnerving because of its music. The score is replete with piercing stings. At times, the strings are mixed to eclipse the dialogue, pacing the feeling of the scene rather than the actions. One would think that a movie that has strings piercing through its dialogue has retched lines; however, the film literally feasts on them. Colin Farrell very much replicates his character in The Lobster, a mumbling self-absorbed oaf, who is utterly unaware of social context. The opening sequence where Steven is talking to his anesthesiologist about getting a watch that he’ll be giving to Martin is a prominent example.
There are other comparisons that can be made to The Lobster, but what separates this film from the former is the setting. The Lobster is set in a dystopian world on a secluded estate. For the audience, it’s pretty easy to disengage, or to largely regard the film as entertainment. However, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is set in both a city and a suburb. The surroundings are familiar. The familiarity of the settings forces the audience to image these events happening in their lives. This is reinforced, much like The Shining, by the bright lighting throughout the film.
It’s fairly rare for a director to have a style so unique that he creates a genre, but that’s exactly what Lanthimos has done with his past films. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a film that represents our sensibilities. As much as we don’t want to admit it, we are conditioned to be voyeuristic, cruelly sarcastic, and ironic. Lanthimos’s style is crafted toward obvious and true, but rarely talked about, portions of our culture. It’s the familiarity that the killing breeds. That’s what makes it so uneasy.
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Photo Credit: A24