The disturbing "Sacred Deer" kills it
Review — Sterile. Raw. Complex. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is not unlike heart surgery. It’s slow. It’s careful. It’s layered. Yorgos Lanthimos’ new film takes a deep look into the peaceful home life of a heart surgeon (Colin Farrell) and his ophthalmologist wife (Nicole Kidman) together with their older daughter and younger son. However, their peace is disrupted when a neighborhood boy (Barry Keoghan) begins tormenting them for an undisclosed reason, shaking up their mild and dull lives in the upper class. What proceeds is a tense drama and a countdown of unknown terrors the father must prevent.
You may know Lanthimos’ previous film, “The Lobster,” which featured as my number six film of 2016 and was nominated for best original screenplay — so you may have guessed I was fairly enthusiastic about watching “Sacred Deer.” It was quite similar to “The Lobster” in that it maintained Lanthimos’ style: purposefully monotonous dialogue, a cool color palette and long, pondering takes with opera or classical music. The unique direction is one to admire and be captivated by. You wonder why he makes these odd choices. Fans of “The Lobster,” or even first-time viewers of “Sacred Deer,” might initially grow tired of the intentionally droning dialogue, but I find it adds an odd charm to Lanthimos’ characters.
I’m not much of a horror fan and “Sacred Deer” is categorized on Fandango and IMDb as a horror. My anticipation for the film, much like with “Get Out,” was prioritized over my fear; and much like “Get Out” the film is not as scary one might think. Both films rely more on tension, urging you to the edge of your seat scene after scene. Both feature one gratuitous display of gore. If I compared both films’ fear factors, I’d say “Get Out” is scarier because it features a few jump cuts. That being said, “Sacred Deer” will disturb you to your very core. Your heart will sink to your stomach and you won’t believe what is happening to the characters on-screen. If you enjoyed “Get Out” I highly recommend “Sacred Deer.”
I’d be remiss if I continued this review without praising the acting. Farrell and Kidman make an outstanding and believable on-screen couple. I’d say their performances far surpassed their roles in this year’s earlier release, “The Beguiled.” I do hope “Sacred Deer” garners them nominations for lead actor and actress. They were truly remarkable; haunting and mysterious, impatient and indecisive, selfless and empathetic.
The on-screen children were exceptional as well. Usually child actors take you out of a film with their atrocious performances, but Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic do a great job as the cold, scared and manipulative children. All of that being said, Barry Keoghan stole every scene he was in. His disturbing performance and on-point delivery made him the most interesting character on screen in the little time he had. I would hope he gets nominated for his supporting role because he was a domineering force over the adults.
Similar to “Three Billboards” (which comes out this Friday, go see it), “Sacred Deer” has a tight script that wastes no time. The film is expertly edited by Yorgos Mavropsaridis. Mavropsaridis does not dilute the tension in any way with unnecessary fluff. There are scenes that give you breathing room, but never completely eradicate the underlying anxiety and pressure. I must also give props to the stark lighting that refined the gray and dull blue color scheme. There was very little dynamic color, which emphasized the dismal and undisturbed “American dream” the family felt trapped in. But as their torment escalates, the camerawork becomes more active. The movie is filmed less surgically, adding narrative absurdities that fascinate and horrify you. Thimios Bakatakis, the cinematographer, perfectly captured the disheveled feeling. The camera was handheld, allowing the camerawork to be more animated compared to the initial tripod, crane and stabilized shots.
As we enter the winter and holiday season, awards season films will emerge and get on your radar. While I don’t think “Sacred Deer” will get most people’s attention, I hope it got yours. It is a phenomenal and captivating movie without a single significant flaw that comes to mind. The disturbing tone and sprinkle of dark comedy appeal to me. I know I didn’t mention much about the plot, but you just have to trust me that the reveal is enthralling. “Sacred Deer” is an easy A, putting it in my number two spot for the year above “Dunkirk” and below “Three Billboards.”