And the gods saw humanity’s pride and ignorance; and they came down to smite them.
We humans are particularly attached to a semblance of order and consistent reality. We like the predictable and the comprehensible because they signify and symbolize our control over our lives and destiny. This is why we are so afraid of the supernatural; it seizes our sense of control and subjects us to uncertainty and cruel, unavoidable fate. We deny that forces much greater than ourselves can govern us, and we wail and claw the ground in pathetic agony if gods punish us with ruin. This is the unenviable fate of the Murphy family in “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.”
Heading the Murphy family is Steven (Colin Farrell), a successful surgeon who wipes himself clean of blood and responsibility each time he finishes an operation. His loved ones are perfect; a loving son, a talented daughter, a supportive spouse. His life is spick and span, almost uncomfortably so; all the more reason for him to share his natural fortune by befriending the young Martin (Barry Keoghan), the son of one of his late patients. Their friendship is so innocent; sharing invitations to dinner, the presenting of gifts, meeting each other’s families.
Then Martin begins stalking Steven. He’s there in the parking lot, he’s in his office for unscheduled checkups, and he’s obsessively texting Steven for get-togethers. Steven is wise to turn him away, but he does not see the true extent of Martin’s psychosis. By the time Martin reveals his sinister intent, it is already too late.
A while after Steven attempts to break things off with Martin, his son Bob (Sunny Suljic) loses the use of his legs. Then he can’t eat. Steven’s hospital can’t diagnose his illness. So Martin does it for him; for letting his father die on the operating table, each of his family will go limp, starve, and eventually bleed out from the eyes. And the only way to end this plague is if Steven sacrifices one of them himself. There is no logical or medical explanation for why they are dying; it is simply retribution in Martin’s eyes. Steven denies that some cosmic force is invading his household, but time runs thin as his daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) becomes afflicted. His secure lifestyle is compromised; he must now cope with circumstances far beyond his understanding and his comprehension.
The world of “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” emanates an intensely focused style. It’s one that director Yorgos Lanthimos executed masterfully in “The Lobster,” and he continues it here. “The Killing” exudes an uncomfortable philia for straight lines. Hallways emphasize distance and a cold disconnection. Corridors are windows into claustrophobic spaces. Filling these voids are characters that share conversations with almost no surprise. Normally pronounced statements are almost monotone; even socially-taboo declarations and dire contexts are received with no obvious emotion.
Perhaps most peculiar of all is an unexpected sensation — “The Killing” will make you laugh. Here, the Kubrickian influence becomes obvious. The deepest, darkest of humor spawns from the most unexpected places in this universe. It’s bizarre that three kids could be sitting in awkward silence after Kim nonchalantly announces her first period, then Steven is clumsily dragging his immobilized son around the next moment. Of course, we must be reminded that this is a horror film, and whenever human dignity is defiled on the screen, it is profoundly disturbing. The thought of watching a loved one succumb to a gruesome, unnatural fate by your hand is upsetting alone.
It’s unapologetically grim, and is not for happy people. Yet, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” visits shadowed areas of the mind that require some introspection from time to time. It’s a sadistic reminder about the consequences of pride and folly, extrapolating the repercussions to unearthly proportions. At least you’ll giggle a little.
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Colin Farrell, Barry Keoghan, Nicole Kidman, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Camp
Release Date: October 20, 2017
Image Courtesy of A24