By Albert Thai Le
Since the release of the critically acclaimed movie “The Lobster” (2015), Yorgos Lanthimos has returned to direct the newest urban thriller “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” Colin Farrell also returns to work with Lanthimos as the main character of this film. In a story centered around an abstract form of revenge, Lanthimos offers a grotesque reimagination of justice that’s bound to send chills the longer you watch this film.
The film revolves around an urban setting, starting at a hospital with an introduction to Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), a cardi+ologist. We then meet Martin (Barry Keoghan), a teenager who looks up to Steven as a mentor in place of his late father, who died in Steven’s care. Their meetings begin like any father-and-son relationship until Steven becomes disturbed by Martin and his mother’s (Alicia Silverstone) obsession with him, leading Steven to distance himself from Martin. All seems well until Steven’s own son Bob (Sunny Suljic) suddenly becomes paralyzed for no clear reason. It’s revealed afterwards by Martin that this is metaphorical revenge against Steven for letting his father die on the operating table. Martin explains that Steven needs to kill a member of his family out of justice for his father. Otherwise, everyone in his family will suffer the same way. Over the course of the film, Steven attempts to cheat his punishment, only to end in tragedy.
For some audiences, the beginning of this thriller may be difficult to chew through. The acting and dialogue for a majority of the film ranges from stiff to cold. As a result, listening to the conversations feels dull and robotic, like those of the adolescent characters like Martin. I know that Keoghan’s character is supposed to come off as mentally disturbed, but the way he unemotionally presents all of his lines is more awkward than creepy.
Farrell’s character starts off sounding stiff and monotone, but he does act more dynamically later in the film by expressing his anger at the situation in a way that feels natural, as it should. And to some degree, the unemotional presentation of the dialogue does manage to fit well as the tragedy among the members of the Murphy household grow progressively worse. Overall, the acting and dialogue does manage to improve the longer the film goes on. It’ll just take some time to bear through the awkward presentation of the beginning.
The musical score is comprised of brief orchestral segments with a bit of acapella in the mix. These pieces help bring the eeriness of the atmosphere within the movie. However, there are portions where the music dominates the volume of a scene so much, the dialogue becomes lost in the noise and the sound begins to grate the ears. Fortunately, this only happens a couple times in the movie.
Despite these minor issues, the film definitely shines through the direction it took in interpreting the phrase “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” I won’t spoil too much, but there are scenes which illustrate the blindness of justice by forcing Farrell’s character into fulfilling the directives mentioned by Martin. The direction for some of these scenes is clever in how the story illustrates its own twisted sense of justice. While the movement for these scenes feel slow, there’s still a thrilling satisfaction for the execution of the narrative.
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is a fine film that presents a rocky beginning, but becomes more thrilling and twisted the longer you watch the madness unfold. The audience has a general idea of how this movie will end (we know someone’s going to be killed eventually), but it’s the journey that takes us to that conclusion which makes experiencing this film worthwhile.