There are films that are so strikingly odd that you end up remembering them and returning back to them again and again. I found that with “The Lobster”. This was the first film in English by Yorgos Lanthimos, and on first watching I honestly thought to myself “what the hell was that?” This obviously made me want to watch it again, as I hate not being able to figure things out. It has become one of my go to films for its quirky humour and stylised presentation.
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is the second English film by Lanthimos who has created a very obvious bond with Colin Farrell as he is cast in the lead role of Steven.
The film is so reminiscent of “The Lobster” with it’s eerily monotone characters Lanthimos certainly puts his stamp on his work. What he also does is drag Greek tragedy kicking and screaming into the present.
As this is not a super new film out, I will give a brief overview of the story. Be aware there are spoilers… so if you really, really want to watch this film, come back and read this review at a later date.
Steven is a cardiovascular surgeon, with a wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and two children – Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic). They live in Cincinnati, in a house which is as sterile as the hospital that Steven works in, and the family relationships frankly seem just as stringent. Steven also has an apparent surrogate son called Martin (Barry Keoghan), from a patient that he killed while operating on him while under the influence of alcohol. Steven is now a recovering alcoholic, and spends time with Martin where he can.
Steven finally decides that Martin should meet his family, and Martin as a good house guest brings gifts… roses for Anna and key rings for the children. He stays for dinner and very quickly creates a bond with Kim.
Martin returns the invite, and Steven goes to dinner with Martin and his mother. Both Mother and son are somewhat mentally deranged – to an almost Oedipal level (you know that greek myth about the son who kills his father and marries his mother…).
Over the next few days, Steven has less time to spend with Martin, so Martin turns up to Steven’s office saying that his heart hurts. After check ups he is declared well. Martin tells Steven that his mother finds him attractive, and Steven quashes and hopes that Martin has of them becoming a couple, highlighting that he loves his own wife very much (in that devastatingly monotone voice which makes it terribly hard to read any emotions through out).
Bob suddenly suffers inexplicable paralysis, lucky that dad works at a hospital, and he is rushed in to undergo a series of tests. As they wait for the results, Martin visits. Wishing Bob well, he whispers in Steven’s ear to meet him in the cafeteria, where Martin explains what is happening…
It transpires that Martin is now out for revenge for the death of his father, and he tells Steven that all members of Steven’s family except for Steven will suffer 4 plagues. Steven can stop them by picking one of his family members to die and to sleep with his mother… a life for a life and companionship for his lonely mother. The plagues are, paralysis, starvation, bleeding from the eyes and then death.
Of course the next day, Kim can’t walk and Bob is off his food.
The hospital can find nothing wrong with the children and while they are slowly starving themselves and have lost the ability to walk, the hospital decides that there is nothing more that they can do for them and sends them home.
Set up in the conservatory, the kids are kept alive through a feeding formula, while Steven goes and finds Martin and keeps him in the basement, as he slowly loses his mind over why his children are suffering.
In the meantime, Anna decides that she is going to play detective and gives a sexual favour to the anthisthiologiast so that she can find out if Steven was responsible for the death of Martin’s father.
At a peak of insanity, Steven holds a gun to Martin’s head, but he points out that if he kills him all of Steven’s family will die so it will be like killing 5 people with 1 bullet.
In a bizarre turn of events, while Steven is out, interrogating his children’s school principal over who is better in a bid to pick which child should die, Anna takes Bob and Kim down to see Martin. She cleans his wounds (inflicted by Steven) and then kisses his feet as though she is worshipping him. Martin tells Anna if she is going to do something she better do it soon as one of the children is about to die.
Anna discusses with Steven the logic of killing a child as they can have another, as she tries to entice Steven to have sex with her while playing dead (that’s his thing…), as this happens, Kim drags herself down to see Martin as she begs to run away with him if he can help her to walk again… There is nothing like having a malevolent god in your basement.
Kim makes a break for it, dragging herself down the road… where she is obviously found very quickly and she gives an epic speech to her father (or is it really Martin) about how they gave her life and they can decide to take it away, but she loves them more than anything.
Anna lets Martin go, and Bob starts bleeding from the eyes.
Steven then binds and gags all his family, before covering their heads in pillow cases, covers his own head and spins round before shooting a lamp. This rigmarole continues before he finally shoots Bob.
Finally you see the family sat in a diner, as Martin walks in to see that only three are at the table. Steven is the classic image of a man haunted, while Kim looks on love lost to Martin before they get up and leave.
There is no explanation of how Martin created these plagues on the family and neither is there an explanation of why Anna didn’t ever get sick, or why Steven didn’t just decide to kill Anna and save the children. I will say that I suspected some form of low level radiation poisoning from the key rings, which actually may have cleared up if Steven could have held out, but this then doesn’t explain the miraculous recovery of Kim after Bob’s death.
Now I mentioned earlier that this film brings Greek myth to the present day, which is does as the films plot is loosely based on the play by Euripides – “Iphigenia in Aulis”. In this play we see Agamemnon decide to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to appease Artemis so that he may sail to Troy. Iphigenia is sent to Aulis on the pretext that she is to marry Achilles, but really she is being sent to her death. There is a whole section where Agamemnon changes his mind and sends a messenger, but it is too late, and Iphigenia finds out why she has been sent there. As she is about to die nobly and at her own choice, Artemis switches her out for a deer which is sacrificed instead (although this ending is thought not to be the original by Euripides).
We could say that Kim was Iphigenia in this scenario as throughout the film her and Bob struggle over who will be the one to be killed, eventually it ends up being the more innocent of the two – Bob, representative of the innocence’s of the deer in Euripides play.
While this is a massive homage to Lanthimos’s greek roots, there are also hints of other films which show influence over this director with this piece. It is really hard not to think of Bob as the kid from “The Shining” – Danny. He looks almost the same as him with his long brown hair and wide eyes, he is the first to be affected by the plagues, he also has the same monosyllabic dialogue and honestly feels just like a reincarnation of the character. There is also element of scenery which tips its hat to the Stephen King thriller.
The cinematography in this film jumps from the mundane to the surreal, as shots are mixed from what almost feels like amateur video club, to out of body experience, which gives the whole film an almost claustrophobic feel especially as the events move forward and the plagues close in.
There is some very dark humour in the piece, which is accentuated by the lack of emotion from all the characters – for example, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as Steven is trying to force feed Bob donuts… the bizarre nature of the action, mixed with how you would expect a normal parent to react creates this deeply tragic irony which swings so far around that it plants it directly in the twisted humour that penetrates this film.
Farrell and Keoghan are excellent in their roles, seemingly two men with their own issues trying to battle them out much like Agamemnon and Achilles. Kidman however appears pinched and a bit starchy, which is fine for this film, but honestly she could do with a burger and fries as she is now looking like a bag of bones, losing her appeal as an object of sexual desire… no wonder he wanted her to play dead to get his kicks as she is looking positively corpse like.
If you like films which are in the surreal field, then this is the film for you. I would say that it really helped that I had watched “The Lobster” first as I was prepared for the bizarreness which is Lanthimos as a creator.
Have you seen “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”? Why not tell me what you thought in the comments? Like this post? Why not share it?