The Killing of a Sacred Deer Review

By Rich Cline

 

Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos reteams with his The Lobster star Colin Farrell for another offbeat thriller with surreal twists. While this film has a bit less of the supernatural weirdness, it’s a far darker story, verging on horror as it pushes its characters into a seriously messy exploration of the morality of revenge. In the end, the message might be a little unclear, but it’s a rare film that has the power to leave our heads spinning.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer Movie Still

It’s set in Cincinnati, in middle America, where cardiologist Steven (Farrell) has finally conquered the alcoholism that threatened his career. His loyal wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) helped him through this, along with their teen daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and younger son Bob (Sunny Siljic). Now Steven is secretly meeting up with the 16-year-old Martin (Barry Keoghan), son of a patient Steven lost on the operating table. As they become friends, he introduces Martin to his family, and things take a strange turn as Martin’s plan for vengeance begins to target Kim and Bob. And Steven and Anna are terrified when they think about what has to happen for Martin to feel like they’re even.

With big moral questions that continually touch a nerve, the film sometimes feels like a particularly deranged Twilight Zone episode. And it also has a powerful emotional resonance, because the characters are so easy to identify with, including Martin. And since the actors underplay their roles, we can’t help but put ourselves in their shoes. Farrell and Kidman find a terrific blend of vulnerability and tenacity in their roles, bringing these frightened parents to vivid life. Cassidy and Suljic are also excellent as intelligent children caught up in what to them is an inexplicable nightmare, while Keoghan steals the film with a casual intensity that becomes increasingly freaky without ever tipping over the top.

Lanthimos and his usual cowriter Efthymis Filippou are experts at writing bizarrely offbeat scripts that have rock-solid internal logic to them, as if these extreme twists and turns are utterly natural. This leaves the audience free to experience the raw emotions of the situation while also considering the bigger thematic questions gurgling underneath. The central idea here seems to be that guilt and grief grow in power if they’re not dealt with properly. Without offering simplistic answers, the film echoes on both personal and much larger societal levels. But it’s the simple story of a family forced to confront the sins of the father that carries the biggest kick.