The Killing of a Sacred Deer, written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, is the brilliant evocation of an American horror story. It was definitely the most disturbing film that I saw in 2017 and yet it made my Top 10 List.
I didn’t know what to expect when I started watching this film and I was slowly drawn into the seeming banality of the of the characters. The movie opens with a scene of open heart surgery performed by Stephen Murphy (Colin Farrell) which is nothing less than spectacular. This was a real surgery. It was filmed during an operation on a real patient who was undergoing quadruple bypass surgery.
In a subsequent scene early on in the film we see the famed heart surgeon making friends with a young man. We don’t know exactly why or who this young man is. Is he a family member? A friend? A neighbor? A little at a time the story unfolds and we learn that the boy’s father was a patient of the heart surgeon and that the father died on the operating table. We surmise that the doctor feels badly about the boy losing his father and he is making friends with him in some sort of an attempt to appease the boy and possibly mollify his own feelings of guilt.
Slowly they form an emotional bond and the doctor invites the boy over to meet his family. Everything seems to be normal at first but there is a creepy feeling that something just below the surface is not right.
Martin befriends the children and forms an emotional attachment to Kim, the daughter. Before long a mysterious illness befalls both children and they lose the use of their legs. We learn later that somehow Martin has caused this illness to occur. He then makes a crucial demand upon Stephen in order to save their lives. It seems Martin blames the death of his father on Stephen. Martin demands that a sacrifice must be made in order to set things right. Stephen must make a horrible choice as to who in the family to sacrifice.
This is where the killing of deer comes into play. The movie is loosely based on the myth of Iphigenia. In Greek mythology Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon, was to be sacrificed for the sins of her father. He had killed a sacred deer belonging to Artemis. The goddess demanded in retribution that Agamemnon kill his daughter Iphigenia.
There are other disturbing aspects to this film There is a strange sexuality that exists between the doctor and his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman). Also, Anna has a sexual interlude with the anesthesiologist who was on duty on the day that Martin’s father died. This she did in order to get information from him about her husband’s condition on the day of the fateful surgery.
The scenes in film were shot in a manner to put one in mind of a series of Edward Hopper paintings. Which is to say they carried with them an emotional weight and a strange beauty.
Nicole Kidman was in fine form here as Anna, the doctor’s wife. Is there anything she can’t do? Colin Farrell was very good as Stephen Murphy, the surgeon and Barry Keoghan was sufficiently strange and creepy as Martin.
I liked this film but it is not for everyone. It was extremely disturbing and strangely cathartic.