THE KILLING OF THE SACRED DEER Review

By Victoria Alexander, Film Critic

Las Vegas Informer

Brilliant, unusual thriller by a masterful director.

There are two unwatchable scenes in Yorgos Lanthimos’ THE  KILLING OF THE SACRED DEER. The first one starts the movie off – up-close open heart surgery. Cincinnati cardiologist Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) and anesthesiologist Matthew (Bill Camp) have finished surgery for the day and are talking about their wristwatches. Matthew has the more expensive model.

Next we see Steven presenting 16-year-old Martin (Barry Keoghan) the newest model of the watch. Steven has gifted Martin with the same one that Matthew has. Steven asks Martin not to just turn up at the hospital to see him, leaving us with a rather suspicious notion as to their relationship.

Steven has been meeting with Martin over the past few months without telling his wife, ophthalmologist Anna (Kidman). They have two children, 14-year-old Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and preteen Bob (Sunny Suljic).

When Martin unexpectedly approaches Steven and Matthew at the hospital, Steven introduces him as his daughter’s schoolmate. Needing to cover up that lie, Steven decides it is best to invite Martin to dinner and introduce his family.

Martin is thoroughly impressed with the Murphy’s household presentation of upper-class life. He is guileless describing his modest family life, especially how the sudden death of his father has affected his mother and their circumstances.

Martin has a disarming nature. He’s creepy but with his adolescent bad skin and hormonal curiosity, his oddness is accepted as the awkwardness of teenage boys gauging how to navigate socially.

Martin is the type of teenager who stands too close to you.

As with the recent ALL I SEE IS YOU, the newest cinematic trend is to show ordinary people engaging in sexually adventurous behavior. Steven’s predilection for sex is a naked, faux-comatose Anna.

Dig deep enough and depending upon your relationship and economic status, any fetish will be satisfied. For some, its having “mommy” watch you take a shower. I wouldn’t be surprised if this behavior was preceded by “mommy” watching as you show off newly acquired toilet skills.

There appears to be some veiled threat Martin is holding over Steven. He’s insistent they meet often. Dismissing Steven’s solid marriage and family, he invites Steven to dinner at his house with his mother (Alicia Silverstone). Steven is reluctant to go to Martin’s house but cannot refuse – for a reason soon be revealed.

Martin is sure that Steven and his mother will fall in love and his mother’s over-excited demeanor shows she is willing to be set up with her deceased husband’s doctor.

Martin’s aggressiveness and secret meetings with Kim has embolden him. The intrusion on his family pushes Steven to admit to Anna his relationship with Martin is more complicated than casual. As Martin becomes entangled with his children, Steven questions his motives.

Steven was Martin’s father’s surgeon. His father was the patient who recently died on Steven’s operating table. Steven was not held responsible, but Martin knows it was due to Steven’s neglect. Martin is direct: Steven killed his father. Now, to “even the score” so to speak, Steven must kill one member of his own family. Until he chooses and carries out the killing, each member of his family will become sick and die. A strange, increasingly viral disease attacks young Bob first.  Regardless of the amount of tests and the hospital’s experts, Bob continues to show the signs of advancing death.

When Kim becomes sick, Steven tells Anna what Martin has predicted and Anna questions whether or not Steven was responsible for Martin’s father’s death. Why should she and the children be the victim’s of Steven’s mistake?

As a casual reference to a fact not commonly known, Steven is now facing ”debt karma.” Martin is merely a messenger. There is no curse. Martin has no power to inflict this edit – somehow he knows that if Steven kills a member of his family, he will pay off the karmic debt he has accrued, in this lifetime, instead of carrying this negative karma through multiple lifetimes.

It could be said that killing one of his family would free Steven from the ancestral “Mark of Cain” that branded Cain as a murderer after he killed his brother Abel. (“Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.” (Genesis 4:15-16).

Setting aside The Old Testament, it is as if Steven was subject to the law of retaliation (or so-called “mirror punishment”), known as one of the Code of Hammurabi (1754 BC), which predates the Hebrew Bible. The injustice ofHammurabi’s most famous law of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was condemned in the Sermon on the Mount.

Notwithstanding the above references, Martin just “knows” that Steven must choose or else his wife, his daughter and his son will all die.

THE  KILLING OF THE SACRED DEER presents the social  problem of guilt and individual responsibility we all face. Steven covered up his crime and it is Martin who has recognized that Steven must pay this debt. It is not a curse and in my opinion Martin is not a demonic figure.

Lanthimos and Farrell are doing a lot of promotion for the film. Farrell is enchanted by Lanthimos after starring in his film THE LOBSTER, another highly unusual plot. With Kidman now appearing everywhere once again, here she is playing a rather unsympathetic character and bravo to her. Generally, movie stars of her caliber refused to play unlikeable roles.

Of course it is Keoghan who has the difficult role and his scenes with Farrell are fantastic. Farrell steps outside his handsome facade and really seems physically burdened as the story progresses. It is fascinating that Lanthimos and his co-writer Efthymis Filippou (who also co-wrote THE LOBSTER with Lanthimos) never show Steven troubled by the death of his patient due to his negligence or his understanding that retribution must be made. So herein lies the question: what is really behind THE KILLING OF THE SACRED DEER, karmic justice or the sly, but important, subject of social inequality?

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/.

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com.

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