THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is Yorgos Lanthimoss most straightforward film to date. All of his other films have specialised in a black-than-black sense of humour presented in a bizarre deadpan where you are not sure whether you should be laughing. This film is more focused on what you could call mundane deadpan. The opening scenes take place as the most banal of conversations Colin Farrell discussing the buying of a watch with a colleague; he and Barry Keoghan sitting in a cafe discussing the way they eat their fries; dinner at home where Nicole Kidman goes on about the renovation of her surgery. Lanthimos being the director he is, you have to keep watching the minutiae of conversation just to see if it is small talk or else something significant that slips in amid the banality.
That is not to say that Yorgos Lanthimoss deadpan blackness doesnt creep back in. Raffey Cassidy and Barry Keoghan have straight-face exchanges: Have you got any hair under your arms yet? Yes I just got my period. After Keoghan tries to set them up, Farrell rejects Alicia Silverstones mothers efforts to come onto him before her upset outburst I cant let you leave until you try my caramel tart. Or the later scenes in the film with everybody reacting calmly as the two children crawl through the house. Theres a rather weird scene where Nicole Kidman undresses and lies with her head hanging over the edge of the bed and Colin Farrell climbs on top and goes General Anaesthetic it is an odd scene that never seems to have much relevance to the rest of the film. On the other hand, by the time the full horror element kicks in, this is the first of Lanthimoss films that you can say the characters react with real world emotions instead of with cryptic dialogue or deadpan blankness.
Yorgos Lanthimoss deadpan style is particularly well suited to horror material. Theres the chill scene where Raffey Cassidy turns to Nicole Kidman: Dont be scared. Soon you wont be able to move too. Youll get used to it. This is a film would have almost no issues being played as more of a genre horror film, for instance, but the banal understatement of reactions rather than the dramatic hyping towards shock effect gives them far more effect. During its latter half, the film segues into undeniably effective horror territory that continues to a particularly grim ending. One oddity about the film is that we never get any explanation of why this malady is affecting the children and how Barry Keoghan knows about it all the hows and whys have been carefully omitted. In a more genre-identifying horror film, there would be all manner of talk about curses or occult rites performed by Keoghan.
Everybody in the film delivers expert and perfectly pitched performances. One of the best aspects of the film is young Irish actor Barry Keoghan. It is a performance where he and Yorgos Lanthimos avoid any cliches of psychopathic or vengeful children Keoghan manages to pronounce a terrible fate on Colin Farrell but never once do you end up hating or fearing him. The scene where he sits opposite Nicole Kidman and turns the eating of a plate of spaghetti into a complex metaphor about missing his father while offhandedly delivering threats in the calmest of tones contains some great acting.
Some confusion exists over the title given that we never see any deer killed in the film. This is an oblique reference to Iphigenia in Aulis (@406-8) by the Greek playwright Euripides. (We see the play being studied by Raffey Cassidy in school at one point). The play takes place during the Trojan Wars where Agamemnon kills a deer without realising that it belongs to the goddess Artemis. She in turn holds back the wind, preventing them from sailing off to the war. Agamemnon learns that in order to appease Artemis he must sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia.