Ambiguity reigns again in this macabre, but seemingly normal present day rendition of “an eye for an eye” revenge film. “The Killing Of A Sacred Deer” alludes to the Greek myth of Agamemnon where he is told to murder his daughter Iphigenia. Writer and director Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster” reviewed June 21, 2016 ) begins his new film with a beating heart surgically opened and displayed. Colin Farrell is Steven, not David. And, Steven gets no second chances. In this chilling film, Steven Murphy, our cardiac surgeon has messed up. He has symbolically killed a “dear” in the wrong garden, but we don’t learn this immediately.
From surgery to restaurant booth, Steven is late for a meeting with a young boy he seems to be mentoring. He asks awkwardly if he can give him a hug. He presents a present over the boy’s wings and fries and apple pie. Next, we are in a sterile dining room with Steven, his wife, daughter, son, and dog. In strange zombie-like fashion, wife Anna ( Nicole Kidman) intones,” Black dress you like; lemon cake just for you.” Dinner finished, we watch a weird sex game where wife Anna is to tumble into their bed and play like she is under general anesthetic. What fun! The next numbing sequence is again in the hospital theater. Our restaurant boy appears uninvited. His name we learn is “Martin”.
Duplicity reigns as Steven admonishes Martin for surprising him. Martin is falsely introduced as his daughter’s school friend who wishes to be a doctor. The audience stays with the slowly unfolding story. There is a premonition of evil, sexual tension, and odd-ball humor. We fear this man may be a child predator, but the opposite is the case.
Martin is played imperiously by Barry Keoghan. Martin insinuates himself into the family’s life, dating Steven’s daughter, and appearing at the door unannounced. Creepy and vindictive, he will avenge his father’s death under our once drunken surgeon’s knife by demanding that Steven kill one of his own family members. His tone is deadpan. He stuffs a donut into his mouth. He tells all that bleeding from the eye is a sign of imminent death. Martin’s short declarative sentences contrast to the unfiltered information that Steven babbles at home. The daughters try to be the “unchosen”. Their principal compares their strengths. Steven’s daughter has written an essay on Iphigenia. We wish we could read it for enlightenment.
More absurdist frames include food: fish is filleted, ketchup is squeezed while blood runs down a tee shirt, mashed potatoes are prepared, and apple pie served. There is foreboding and unease everywhere. Yet, the score is infused with religious music.
Free will seems to give way to puppetry. Someone else seems to be in control of this family’s universe. Cinematography aids this by shots of high walls and robotic movements~ almost dollhouse views looking down. The children develop strange symptoms. They can no longer walk. A psychological horror film masked in an ancient justice system gets more and more absurd. Are we to laugh at the display? I was intrigued, but not given to put too much effort into decoding another Lanthimos film that makes his audience work way too hard to figure out his intent.