Friday, October 27, 2017
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
With majestic chorus blasting, the film opens with an open beating heart on an operation table. The surgeon is Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) who always speaks in monotone and short sentences. In a matter of fact fashion and for no apparent reason, he discusses with his anesthesiologist Matthew (Bill Camp) about the depths of their water resistance watches while walking down a long narrow corridor.
Immediately and effectively, that seemingly random small talk creates an uneasy atmosphere in the air. It also sets the tone and mood of the film. When we meet the rest of the characters, they all talk strangely in such a deadpan manner and the creepiness exacerbates as the story unfolds.
Before Steven goes home to his family, he meets an innocent looking and polite 16-year-old boy Martin (Barry Keoghan) at a cafe. Later we learned that Martin is the son of one of Steven's patients who died on Steven's operation table. Steven genuinely cares about Martin, or at least he appears to be, but it also appears that Martin has control over Steven somehow.
At Steven's beautiful suburban home, he lives with his ophthalmologist wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their two children, 14-year-old Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and 12-year-old Bob (Sunny Suljic). Although they look like a typical family, they certainly talk in a peculiar way similar to those in the director's previous film "The Lobster." After Martin meets the family, the bizarre interactions among them becomes more frightening and erratic. Eventually, it reaches the climax that resembles a story in the Greek mythology referenced by the film's title.
The writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos is known for telling unconventional stories that defy logic but have plenty of eccentric characters. In "Dogtooth" (Κυνόδοντας | Greece 2009), three late-teens are house-bound by their overprotective parents and learn new meanings of vocabularies their parents invented. In "The Lobster" (Greece/Ireland/Netherlands/UK/France 2015), single people need to find a lover in 45 days or they will be turned into animals. In comparison, the story in "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" almost seems normal. However, the story is a spooky nightmare without much logic.
Why do these characters speak sentences in monotone as if a robot is reading a fortune cookie? Only the director knows. But does it freak you out, especially when the unnerving Martin says those words? Absolutely. The dialogue strangely creates a foreign environment that challenges your comfort zone. You are scared but you don't know what scares you. The fantastic ensemble cast, especially the brilliant Barry Keoghan who plays Martin, terrifically delivers the director's intention.
While it's frightening, the film is also funny at time. The humor mostly comes from the shock value of the dialogue, especially when they were spoken as if overheard from a mentally ill person who speaks to himself on streets. When Steven plainly states "our daughter started menstruating last week," how can you hold back chuckles while wondering what is wrong with him?
Even by the end of the film, you probably won't know what's wrong with Steven or with any other character in the film. Logic is not the interest of the storyteller. All he wants is to show you a nightmare that won't leave you even after you wake up.