The Killing of a Sacred Deer is the guilty heart surgeon family paralysis movie of the year. I’m not saying it’s the best guilty heart surgeon family paralysis movie ever, but it’s definitely in the top five.
Stephen (Colin Farrell) is mentoring or big brothering or just friends with a teenager, Martin (Barry Keoghan), who is not his son. He has a son and daughter of his own, but when they become paralyzed from the waist down, Martin claims to have something to do with it, and a morbid way Stephen can fix everything.
The specifics of the plot are even weirder, but the day to day aesthetic of the movie is weird and off putting, a sort of unreality but not unrecognizable. Stephen and his anesthesiologist have a long walk and talk about inane specifics of watches. Stephen and Martin share an awkward lunch. Stephen blurts out to colleagues that his daughter started menstruating, like recently. Martin invites Stephen over for dinner and tries to fix him up with his mom (Alicia Silverstone) making Stephen uncomfortable.
I’m not sure what we’re supposed to get out of all this. It’s art, man. Still I’ve got to hand it to Yorgos Lanthimos. Way to make the absolute least commercial version of this movie possible. Whatever you think of it, you can’t say it’s compromised.
That seems to be what Lanthimos does with genre, whether science fiction or mystical. He creates weirdness without visual effects. The rules of The Lobster were oppressively metaphorical but the world still looked like modern day. And then there was Dogtooth.
Sacred Deer still looks like a modern day hospital and well off family home, but people state things that should be implicit. Sure, lots of people say the wrong thing in public, but there’s a method to these characters’ quirks that makes them uncomfortably jarring for the audience.
It’s also interesting that Stephen and his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) don’t invest in wheelchairs for the longest time. This allows for many scenes where kids drag themselves around the house by their hands, limp legs flopping behind them.
I don’t think Killing of a Sacred Deer ultimately worked for me. It asked provocative questions where it didn’t quite feel like Stephen or Annie were truly addressing the elephant in the room. At least I can’t say it’s tired or formulaic. This certainly was original.