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“Killing of a Sacred Deer”: Not Your Typical Revenge Drama

By Lindsey DeRoche; A&E Editor
On December 9, 2017

The last few months have been immensely eventful for the world of independent films. Movies like “Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri,” “Lady Bird” and “The Florida Project” have garnered attention from film fans and critics alike. As of late, indie films have been ripe with new takes on previously rehashed tropes, such as grief, coming of age and poverty.

“Killing of a Sacred Deer,” written and directed by acclaimed Greek director, producer and screenwriter Yorgos Lanthimos (who is known for dark, satirical works like “The Lobster”), takes a new spin on old themes, as well. Only, it centers around purely dark subject matter, like revenge, culpability and disturbing forms of “justice.”

This unnerving thriller stars an ensemble cast, with Colin Farrell and Barry Keoghan (from “Dunkirk”) as the two main characters, and Nicole Kidman as Farrell’s wife.

“Killing of a Sacred Deer” wastes no time in being jarring for viewers, as ominous, orchestral music commands the film’s audio during the opening credits, which are in simple black and white. Immediately, we are shown the immense power and responsibility that lies, literally, in the hands of Steven Murphy (played by Colin Farrell), a heart surgeon who is in the middle of surgery on a patient.

Things become peculiar swiftly, as we meet a teenage boy named Martin (played by Barry Keoghan) before any of Dr. Murphy’s family. Murphy and Martin meet at a diner, and we observe what is obviously a mentor-esque relationship that has been ongoing between the two for a fair amount of time.

Whether Murphy is speaking to Martin or his coworkers at the hospital, the dialogue is outrageously unrealistic, right out of the gate. Characters speak about things of absolutely no importance or consequence, and share things that no one would actually share with an acquaintance in real conversation.

This unrealistic dialogue immediately sets a tone for possible symbolism and commentary in the film, as opposed to setting up a piece meant to be taken literally, word for word. The Murphy family members are cold to one another; not in a cruel way, but a robotic way. The family of four (a father, mother, son and daughter) seem to serve as stereotypical archetypes at Lanthimos’ disposal.

The cinematography in the film is intriguing and purposeful from the very initial shots of the film. Tracking shots and bird’s-eye-view shots are employed within the first five minutes. The film’s style falls in line with many of the stereotypes of European directing: long, lingering shots and slow pacing.

With the technical aspects, like camera and sound, manipulating the audience from the very beginning, the more knowledgeable that one becomes about the character dynamics and plot, the more one is filled with a sense of dread that cannot quite be explained.

Dr. Murphy is a man with a checkered past, and Martin is deeply embedded in it, as well as hellbent on exposing it. This film will make you question your own ideas about ethics and responsibility.

This film is also not one to be taken literally, but allegorically. The title itself comes from a story in Greek mythology centered around sacrifice and atonement. And that is certainly something to keep in mind.

Biblical references and implications are also littered throughout this piece, meticulously placed in their spots by Lanthimos, who obviously put a painstaking amount of effort into this very European-esque work.

The only two words I can use to describe this film are “psychological” and “emotional,” as Lanthimos tapped into both my emotions and my intellect, leaving me to analyze the film in my mind over and over for hours after it concluded. It is impossible not to ask yourself just how far justice should go, and how you define it, after viewing “Killing of a Sacred Deer.”

Films like this don’t make their way to the United States often, and this one is certainly worth seeking out.

 

 

 

 

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