Colin Farrell reunites with Greek Director Yorgos Lanthimos, this time a bit more bushy, as Dr. Steven Murphy. He is a surgeon, and recovering alcoholic. He seemingly has a perfect life, with a beautiful and successful wife (Nicole Kidman), and two children. Steven befriends a 16 year old boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan Dunkirk), whose father died on Steven’s operating table some years ago. However, from our first introduction to this relationship, something seems off. Lanthimos withholds his character’s histories and motivations, and we are asked to come up with the answers ourselves. Steven introduces Martin to people at the hospital as a friend of his daughters, but we know he isn’t. This is just one of the many red flags about this relationship.
Steven eventually invites Martin to dinner at his house, and that is when Sacred Deer starts to enter X-Files territory. To try and explain Sacred Deer would do the film a disservice. The twists and turns will keep you guessing about what is real and where these characters are headed.
Colin Farrell once again shines. The Lobster was a surprising role for Farrell, but Sacred Deer takes his talents to new heights. Farrell is a character actor with leading man looks, and his two films with Lanthimos are among the best work of his career.
However, the scene stealer is Keoghan. After seeing his stock rise thanks to a small role in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, Keoghan puts himself in awards contention with this menacing performance. Martin is at times charming, well mannered, and thoughtful. This all masks his true terrifying motives. He rips this family apart at the seems with his careful manipulation.
In truth, all of the actors deliver excellent performances. Lanthimos’ script is written in such a way where the dialogue is both straight to the point and direct, but also leaves so much unsaid. He’s working in a deeply metaphorical area about a man who plays God being asked somethings Gods are rarely asked, to make personal sacrifices. Inspiration for the film may have come from the Greek myth of Agamemnon killing a sacred deer and the goddess Artemis punishing him by forcing Agamemnon to sacrifice his own daughter Iphigenia. This hint is dropped late into the movie during a parent teacher meeting, but no clear connections are ever made. As is Lanthimos’ way.
Sacred Deer is also visually striking. Despite the open, sterile settings of hospitals and suburbia, Lanthimos films Sacred Deer with many slow zooms giving the movie a claustrophobic feeling. The long tracking shots will remind many viewers of The Shining, and provide Sacred Deer with a palpable tension.
Although The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a challenging film, the slow burn approach may turn off some viewers, Lanthimos has crafted a truly unforgettable film.