More akin to Dogtooth than The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer takes time to show its hand but when it does, it slowly and surely builds to a devastating conclusion.
If you have never seen a film by Lanthimos, he presents a world that is seemingly normal except for one bizarre aspect; surreal for us but completely and unquestioningly accepted as normal by all the characters. This anomaly is where the heart of the tale and, for me, the metaphorical context lies. To understand and engage with the film, you must also accept the anomaly. In The Lobster, it was the sanctity of relationships, and in Dogtooth, the damage caused by over protective parenting. The Killing of a Sacred Deer tackles personal accountability and sacrifice.
Steven (Colin Farrell) is a cardiologist with a tidy and perfect life. Wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) is an ophthalmologist and neatly and unemotionally meets his physical needs and supports his career. Their two children, prepubescent Bob (Sunny Suljic) and adolescent and naively worldly Kim (Raffey Cassidy), are not perfect but their rebellions are minor and insubstantial.
A teenager Martin (Barry Keoghan) befriends Steven, who is solicitous toward him although secretive; we discover that Martin is the son of a former patient who died. As Martin becomes more persistent in his pursuit of Steven, we realise that not all is as it seems.
To talk any more about the plot would spoil the unexpected twists and turns that make this so compelling. There is a slow escalation of tension, so at odds with the deadpan emotionless delivery of the dialogue but all the more chilling because of it. The characters and performances are spot on and distinctly recognisable, Martin in particular treads a delicious line. There are some chilling moments, profound in their banality – watering the plants, the MP3 player, the wearing of the black dress.
This is not a film for everyone. Although the absurdity provoked laughter from much of the audience, I have never found Lanthimos films to be funny or essentially comedic. You know that any oddity is really tragedy but a tragedy so profound and close to our realities that we want to dismiss it with humour.
The depth, for me, is in the exploration of personal accountability and I felt this couldn’t be separated from aspects of male privilege. Steven’s unquestioned agency and its consequences says much about gender limitations, expectations and abuse.
As the credits rolled I felt devastated and couldn’t help but look around me to see where this tale of sacrifice and resolute self-delusion plays out in my world.
Have you seen this film? Let me know what you thought in the comments below.