An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind, or so we’ve been told. There is inherent desire for revenge that sparks in the belly of those who feel they have been wronged. That same spark has been firing for as long as people have walked this Earth, and the allure is often too great for some to resist. Like getting a quick fix of nicotine from the cigarettes you’ve kept just in case you get a craving, revenge promises a sudden rush of endorphins and the release of whatever it is that has been weighing on us. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer takes this idea to a place rarely seen on screen, and through ambiguous storytelling crafts a mesmerizing journey that is consistently uncomfortable to watch. This is due not to the content itself, but rather the uncertainty of what will happen from one moment to the next.
Colin Farrell stars as Steven Murphy, a surgeon and recovering alcoholic who lives an idyllic life with his wife (Nicole Kidman) and two children (Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic). You get the feeling everything in Steven’s life is just as he and everyone else wishes it would be, from his success at work to his seemingly perfect family, except for the presence of Martin. Played by Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk), who will no doubt be an actor in very high demand after this role, Martin is the only son of a man who died on Steven’s operating table some time before the story began. For reasons not initially made clear, Steven has developed a relationship with Martin, but when their boundaries of their connect is tested both men find themselves on a path where neither one knows the final destination.
To say much more about the film would be to ruin one of the most unexpected journeys in recent cinematic memory. The marketing materials have gone to great lengths to tell viewers nothing more than they need to know, and in many ways the film itself does the same. Nearly half of the feature’s runtime is spent keeping viewers in the dark, and even when the first reveal comes to pass it’s just enough to keep the audience aching for more. The mystery is then further complicated by the fact neither lead is entirely honest. There is rarely a moment when you feel what is happening on screen is everything that is happening at that exact point in time, and investigating those questions will have you glued to the screen throughout, even if not all answers are ultimately revealed.
The look and feel of Sacred Deer stands out as well. Brought to life through the ever-creative eye of cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis, the film strives to make you feel as though you are witnessing something private that was never meant for public consumption. Multiple scenes begin with cameras placed outside or otherwise away from the action. As the moment unfolds viewers enter the space, as if they are a spirit roaming a home or a hospital corridor, often stopping at the perfect distance for a wide angle shot that isn’t afraid to linger. You yearn to be closer, but Bakatakis and Lanthimos do not give in. They want you to feel helpless, just as many of the characters do, and they succeed.
Very few times in my writing career has a film left me at a total loss for words. There have been plenty of stunning titles, as well as the occasional screening of something so appallingly bad one can barely believe it even exists, but even in those extreme cases words typically come easy. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, the latest offering from Lobster filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, is something else altogether. For two-hours I barely breathed, let alone thought beyond the frames flickering in front of me. It was an experience unlike any other I have come across this year, and it was one I cannot urge you enough to seek out for yourself.