Director Yorgos Lanthimos makes idiosyncratic films. From the bizarre home schooling fantasy “Dogtooth” to “The Lobster,” a film about turning lovesick divorcees into wildlife, he is unafraid to let his freak flag fly. His newest film, “The Killing Of A Sacred Deer” starring Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman, may be his most unapologetically odd film yet.
Farrell is Steven Murphy, an uptight cardiac surgeon married to ophthalmologist Anna (Kidman). Their two kids, Bob (Sunny Suljic) and Kim (Raffey Cassidy) are polite, happy kids. They eat dinner together every night and by all outward appearances lead a disciplined, quiet suburban life. It wasn’t always that way. Just three years before Steven was forced to stop drinking when it began to interfere with his work.
Now all is calm. The only strange thing is Steven’s attachment to Martin (Barry Keoghan), the son of a patient who died unexpectedly. Steven buys him expensive presents and always seems to have time to talk to the boy or take him out for lunch. Shortly after Martin is invited over for dinner, however, things in the Murphy household take a turn for the worse. Little Bob’s legs give out and soon he is paralyzed from the waist down. He’s given every test known to man and science but no diagnosis is forthcoming. Then Kim takes ill, collapsing at choir practice. Again, there doesn’t seem to be a medical reason for her paralysis.
There’s more, but there will be no spoilers here. If you want clues look up the Greek myth of Artemis’s demand of atonement from Agamemnon after he killed a sacred deer.
From this point on “The Killing Of A Sacred Deer” becomes a horror film about ideas rather than actions. It’s a study of extreme consequences, atonement and the length to which people will go to save their families. In many ways it’s the kind of story we’ve seen many times before but Lanthimos has filtered the domestic drama through his lens, creating an unsettling and absurd film that is as gripping as it is strange.
Lanthimos uses language and tone to bring us into his world. The actors have a eerie, mannered way of speaking as though they are always reading aloud from an Emily Post book. Before anything odd happens the matter-of-fact speech, often about the most trivial or, sometimes, inappropriate things, establishes the film’s otherworldly tone. It hangs heavy over every second of the movie and when the character’s veneers begin to crack it is even more disquieting.
“The Killing Of A Sacred Deer” does not offer explanations or apologies for anyone’s behaviour. Instead it is content to wallow in the cruelty and depravity of its story. Strange days indeed.