*Obviously, spoilers for The Killing of A Sacred Deer.*
I feel like I’m missing something. I’ve been reading reviews about Yorgos Lanthimos’s newest film The Killing of a Sacred Deer and they’ve been full of praise. Granted, one of them says it “won’t be for everyone,” so maybe I am one of those people. But in all honesty, I really couldn’t bring myself to enjoy this movie. I mean, I kinda get it now that I’ve written this whole review – but still.
Art is Dead
My issue with the movie can be boiled down to a single thing: emotionless, deadpan acting. Now, according to all these reviews I’ve been reading, this is all on purpose. Frankly, from the very first scene, I knew that it had to be on purpose. There is just no other way for actors like Nicole Kidman and Collin Farrell to deliver their lines just so emotionlessly.
In hindsight, I can see Lanthimos’s game plan. He wanted to create an unsettling atmosphere. Even the music used in the movie is jarring – there are parts where the generic dissonant violin notes get ridiculously loud. The whole story is meant to be awkward, unnatural, abnormal.
The first scene with real dialogue takes place between Steven (played by Farrell) and his “best friend” Matthew (Bill Camp). They’re both doctors, so they’re obviously FILTHY rich. As such, their conversation is about their watches. And, well, it’s all very mechanical – almost like it was written for an English learning book. It’s supposed to be humorous, I’m told.
Then there are a bunch of other scenes where the dialogue is just plain strange. Like that scene where Steven’s daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) just casually mentions that she just had her first period to Martin (Barry Keoghan – more on him later). There is nothing wrong with talking about periods, sure. But there is just nothing believable about that scene – especially considering the fact that this elicits literally no reaction from anyone on the screen. Maybe they live in a post-patriarchal society? Unlikely.
Lanthimos is trying to weird out the audience and make them feel uncomfortable, but only succeeds in alienating them. I really wanted to be able to connect with these characters and actually care about what’s happening to them. I don’t care that they’re emotionless, I wanted to feel some emotions damn it.
But I guess that’s what Lanthimos wanted to happen? I mean I guess that’s a valid thing to want as the director? I guess that’s art? I guess I don’t get art? Then again, what even is art? Nothing is real. Postmodernism killed all joy in life and we are all skeptics on a giant rock hurtling through space over a million miles an hour.
It’s just that I don’t necessarily need a movie to remind me of that fact.
A Beacon of Monotony Amongst the Monotonous
Keoghan’s Martin is the true hero of The Killing of a Sacred Deer. If every other human in Lanthimos’s world are weirdos, then Martin is their king. He is like that one really persistent annoying guy, who always wants to hang out with you and you can’t say no to him because of one reason or another. In Steven’s case, that reason is the fact that he “killed” Martin’s dad, a.k.a. the Sacred Deer.
(The whole movie is just a “retelling” of the Greek myth of Iphigenia, in which Agamemnon kills one of Artemis’s sacred deer and then has to kill her own daughter, because how dare he kill a sacred deer. In The Guardian’s words, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is “a wrathful tale of retribution and responsibility transposed from the stages of ancient Greece to the screens of 21st-century drama.”)
What’s weird is that Martin’s character is the only one that feels real. The monotony of everyone else is out of place, but in Martin’s case it makes sense. The loss of his father has left him reeling and he clearly isn’t dealing with it properly. Instead, he finds a new father in Steven.
And for his part, Steven takes up this new mantle maybe a bit too enthusiastically. (And I’m using the word “enthusiastic” very, VERY loosely here. Seriously there are no emotions but angry-crying in this movie.) Arguably, this feeds into Martin’s delusions, who ends up playing matchmaker between his mother and Steven. And that leads to one of the funniest scenes in the entire movie, where Martin’s mother awkwardly tries to flirt with Steven, who has beautiful, doctor hands.
Martin’s true brilliance comes to fore later in the movie, when he finally reveals his hand (and magical powers.) In a single breath, he explains to Steven that his whole family will die a horrible death unless he chooses and kills one of them. Martin’s prophetic description of Steven’s family’s death is then slowly revealed to be credible, via Steven’s son Bob’s (Sunny Suljic) getting his legs paralyzed. His daughter Kim soon suffers the same fate.
There are some really, really good scenes featuring Martin. Keoghan delivers a bloodchilling performance as a completely detached teenager, hellbent on revenge. It’s just such a shame that his co-actors weren’t able to react better, probably because of the direction. But hey, if that’s what Lanthimos thinks is artsy, then by all means let him do his thing.
There is No Choice, Free Will Is a Lie
So the whole movie is a build-up to one of this one scene, where Steven finally decides to kill one of his family. His hand is being forced, now that Bob’s eyes have started to bleed – phase 3 of Martin’s prophecy. (Phase 4 is death.)
If this was any other movie where I was able to emotionally connect with at least Steven, forget the rest of his family, this would have been the most intense moment of the movie. It isn’t though and there are a few reasons.
First, as I said, I don’t care about any of these characters. In fact, it doesn’t seem like they care about each other either. It’s implied that they do, but it just feels like they’re going through the motions – as if families are not made out of bonds of blood and emotion, but of custom and tradition *wink wink, nudge nudge*. Is this another bit of biting satire?
Second, Steven’s choice IS NOT EVEN A CHOICE. In what probably is the worst idea ever, Steven duct tapes his entire family in the living room puts pillow cases over their heads, puts a black beanie over his, takes up a shotgun, and starts spinning around. When he manages to kill one of the family members after the third time, nothing happens. The audience doesn’t react, the characters don’t react, the camera doesn’t react, the music doesn’t react. The thing just happens.
This, I assume, is supposed to be humorous, but I felt robbed. It’s a cheap ending to a movie that was supposed to be about responsibility, choice, and guilt. In the end, The Killing of a Sacred Deer delivers none of those things. It thinks it does, but it really doesn’t.
As I’ve written in my notes, “Fuck that noise.”
Do I Even Art?
So I studied Political Science and do not have a degree in any arts thing and have never really cared much about artsy movies. But I refuse to believe that I am simply not getting this movie. Honestly, as I was writing this review, I started to give it a bit more credit. But overall, I remain convinced that it fails to deliver what it purports to deliver.
Still, if you think that it succeeds in doing all that, then by all means be my guest.
After all, art is subjective. Heck, TRUTH is subjective.