When it comes to my thoughts on The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the newest film from writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Lobster), I hate every word that comes to mind. Pretentious, stilted, arch, mannered, self-important, one-trick pony, stunt. I did in fact think of each of those as I watched the film at Fantastic Fest 2017, but I don’t much care for any of them because they ascribe a motive to the filmmaker. They seem too personal for judging a piece of art. I can’t fathom why Lanthimos takes this approach to his material. I can simply say it leaves me totally cold as a viewer.
If you’ve seen The Lobster, you know the approach I’m talking about. The affectless faces of the cast. The monotone line readings. Awkwardness to the point of painfulness. A total inability to identify with any of the characters because you’ve never, ever, encountered anyone in your life who acts or talks like this. The idea that all of these calculated choices create an ironic sense of humor. I did laugh intermittently at The Lobster. I just stared quizzically at The Killing of a Sacred Deer and pondered ordering a baked pretzel from the Alamo Drafthouse waitstaff.
Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a cardiovascular surgeon. He’s friends with Martin (Barry Keoghan), the fifteen-year-old son of a former patient. They meet by the river and talk. They meet at the local diner for a meal and a talk. If you’re already thinking the film is about a pedophile, you’re barking up a logical, but wrong, tree. They’re friends because … well, because most middle-aged men have teenaged boys as friends? As the film enters its second act, we learn that Martin’s motives aren’t entirely pure, and then the narrative takes a really bizarre turn that I won’t reveal here.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer offers the audience no real entry point into the film. There’s no emotional investment in the outcome because none of the characters are relatable. I sat next to one of the festival filmmakers during my screening of Sacred Deer. That person had no idea that I was a member of the press, so I won’t provide his or her name. When I asked this person what he or she thought of the film, he or she frowned and said, “He certainly seems to hate humanity.” If that explains the emotionless detachment of the film, then I second that opinion.
It becomes hip to like certain filmmakers. There’s an indie cachet that comes with saying their names to your friends who aren’t the cinephile that you are. It’s much like Hans Christian Andersen’s fable of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Is The Killing of a Sacred Deer the cinematic equivalent of a tuxedo? Or is the film just sitting there buck naked and exposed while everyone pretends it’s wearing Armani? I’m sure there’s an interesting debate to be had on that topic, but there’s nothing about this film that makes me want to talk about it any more than I already have.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.