The films of director Yorgos Lanthimos, sometimes called a member of the Greek Weird Wave, are very much an acquired taste. I had my own baptism by film watching his Dogtooth (2009) and warmed to him with The Lobster (2015).
His latest, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, is a gripping tale that is equal parts Greek tragedy and horror. Given the film’s title, I do not think it is a spoiler to mention that major elements of the plot are derived from Euripedes’ Iphigenia In Aulis. Its carefully sustained buildup and intensity of tone may remind some viewers of films by Roman Polanski.
Cincinnati cardiologist Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) seems to have a perfect life. He and his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), an ophthalmologist, have two precocious children and a luxurious home. Lanthimos never hints anything might be amiss, the surest way of cluing audiences to fasten their seatbelts.
Steven has periodic meetings with a teenager named Martin (Barry Keoghan) that might be dismissed as innocuous if the two did not take them so seriously. He buys gifts for Martin, like an expensive watch. When Martin turns up at the hospital unannounced, Steven introduces him to colleagues as a friend of his daughter.
Eventually, Martin wrangles a dinner invitation at Steven’s house. He ingratiates himself with Steven’s family, particularly Steven’s teenage daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy). Martin also strong-arms Steven into having dinner at his house. The intent appears to be pairing Steven with Martin’s randy mother (Alicia Silverstone). One of the few genuinely funny moments in this film is Silverstone hollering, “You’re not leaving until you try my tart!”
When Steven’s son Bob (Sunny Suljic) falls victim to a strange neurological malady, Martin is the only one who is not shocked. Martin coolly reminds Steven that his father died after Steven operated on him. Bob’s illness is a form of retribution for Steven’s crime. Steven’s punishment is that he must take the life of one of his family members. If he does not, all of them will die.
What is even more chilling than this directive is Steven’s continued refusal to accept culpability for this situation.
Farrell and Kidman are predictably great here, but the breakout performance is Barry Keoghan’s. He is probably most familiar to filmgoers as George in Dunkirk-a completely different role. His Martin is a study in twisted logic, similar to Robert Walker’s Bruno Antony in Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train.
Several people behind the camera have worked with Lanthimos on other projects. Efthymis Filippou co-wrote the script, as he did on Dogtooth, Alps, and The Lobster. Editor Yorgos Mavropsaridis and cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis both worked on Dogtooth and The Lobster. Their work, along with that of music editor/supervising sound editor Johnnie Burn, helps to convey the sense of a nightmare in progress.
Theme: Inspired By Greek Literature
Related Posts: Film Appreciation: O Brother, Where Art Thou? http://www.thinkingcinema.com/film-appreciation-o-brother-where-art-thou/
Inspired By Greek Literature: List For Week Ending October 29, 2017 http://www.thinkingcinema.com/inspired-by-greek-literature-list-for-week-ending-october-29-2017/