Monday 3 April 2023

The Killing of a Sacred Deer - 2017 film review

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a film by the Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos which stars Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell, and the presence in the cast of these two fine actors was enough to encourage me to watch. The film is described on Wikipedia as a 'psychological horror thriller', a term which certainly ticks several boxes and it is said that the story was inspired by the ancient Greek tragedy Iphigenia in Aulis

Farrell plays a heart surgeon called Steven Murphy. He's wealthy and successful and married to Anna (Kidman); they have two children, Kim and young Bob. Are they living the American Dream? Perhaps, but the couple's sex life is...unusual and chilly, and from the start, there's something a bit odd about the dialogue - it's spoken in a stilted, unreal way. Given the quality of the actors, we know this is deliberate. We're being set up to expect something strange.

And something strange is what we get. A 16 year old boy called Martin comes into the story. Steven has meetings with him and gives him expensive presents. Is there something sexual going on? Things get weirder when we learn that Steven operated on Martin's father, who died, and when Martin's mother tries to seduce Steven, albeit without success.

Bad stuff starts to happen, with Steven's son Bob the first target. Martin emerges as a very sinister figure indeed, and soon Steven finds himself presented with a cruel moral dilemma - this is where the supposed inspiration from Euripedes comes into the story. The trouble is that Lanthimos swamps his film with too much pretentiousness, so that ultimately it sinks into silliness. 

The moral dilemma would be much more compelling if we really believed in Steven and Anna and their children, and were more driven to root for their survival and to feel their pain. Alas, I felt alienated by the way Lanthimos presented them. There are definitely some interesting ideas at work here, and there are moments in the film which do work well. So I was never bored, just rather disappointed.   

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