FILM REVIEW: THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER
THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Alicia Silverstone
Yorgos Lanthimos’s new movie The Killing of a Sacred Deer seeks to unveil the troublesome human nature in times of internal crises. The director reunites with Colin Farrell and cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis to construct a raw drama/horror film that portrays each character’s inner vexatious thoughts through cinematography.
The film follows Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), a successful surgeon, his wife and children, and Martin (Barry Keoghan), a teenager who has lost his father and Steven seems to mentor. It is revealed that Martin’s father died on Steven’s operating table, and that Martin blames Steven for his death. The plot spins around the gradually shattering Murphy family and Martin’s ruthless plan for justice/revenge.
As with other Lanthimos films, what stands out here is the use of cinematic language, particularly cinematography combined with music and sound, to create an atmosphere that carries the plot and character dynamics. The soundtrack is a dominant component of the film, in the way it hypnotises the viewers till the end. Every tiny fraction of it can be seen on screen and traced back to its source. The song “Burn” by Ellie Goulding, which is sung by the daughter Kim Murphy (Raffey Cassidy) to Martin, foreshadows the entire movie as the only music featured in the trailer (see below). Martin is metaphorically setting a fire in the house of Steven and Anna Murphy (Nicole Kidman) by paralysing Bob (Sunny Suljic) and Kim.
Another characteristic is the wide angle shots; characters seem tiny in their own world and claustrophobically stuck. Yet, these are combined with close-ups delicately showing the daunting shock on the character’s faces. The strength of the shots lies in the disorienting reality with a raw deadpan humour. The viewer is given a certain perspective into the scenes, that changes from overlooking a room to looking straight into the characters. This immediate transition creates an unbalanced disturbance.
The lighting is another prominent element, often creating a stark contrast of dark and light, especially as it shows the way Martin sees Steven. To give an example, Steven’s personality is structured around immorality and dishonesty, shown visually by dark backgrounds contrasting his bright hands. His hands are displayed several times for how perfect they are unlike his weak ego. He lies to everyone and does not accept any consequences of his own actions. From the beginning, Steven tries to maintain his image of pureness by throwing away his blood-covered gloves into the bin. He feels guilty enough to meet with Martin in secret, but these encounters don’t make him take responsibility for his role in Martin’s father’s death.
Martin is shown as a god-like figure partially through the use of music, which drowns out the conversation in the early scenes. It isn’t until halfway through the film that his actual plan is revealed. Until that point, he comes off as a disturbed teenager whose father died tragically. When his plan is revealed, he is portrayed with this power over the other characters, which completely changes the dynamics in the second half of the film.
Lanthimos and Bakatakis present an extraordinary film packed with intense sound editing and eerie lighting to create a division between characters. They are the primary tools the determine not only the tone and feel of the film, but also the necessary insight into the characters. In that way, it’s not unlike The Lobster, so you get exactly what you expected from a Lanthimos film.