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The Killing of a Sacred Deer Movie Review

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) movie poster The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Theatrical Release: October 20, 2017 / Running Time: 119 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos / Writers: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou

Cast: Colin Farrell (Steven Murphy), Nicole Kidman (Anna Murphy), Barry Keoghan (Martin), Raffey Cassidy (Kim Murphy), Sunny Suljic (Bob Murphy), Alicia Silverstone (Martin's Mother), Bill Camp (Matthew)

 

Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou don't have the easiest names to spell, pronounce, or remember, but they are requiring critics and moviegoers alike to do just that. Writer-director Lanthimos and co-writer Filippou,

both born in Athens, Greece in the 1970s, earned some admirers as early as 2012 when their 2009 movie Dogtooth picked up an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. A few years later, the duo made their English language debut with The Lobster, a film that earned a nomination for Best Original Screenplay at 2016's Academy Awards despite opening in May.

Lanthimos and Filippou have quickly followed up their acclaimed dark comedy about romance with a similarly distinctive Colin Farrell vehicle, The Killing of a Sacred Deer. This employs the same deliberate, unflashy style. We open in a long hospital hallway in which heart surgeon Steven Murphy (Farrell) and his anesthesiologist friend Matthew (Bill Camp) compare their wristwatches. They both have strong opinions about wristwatches, though they are expressed, like almost everything in this film, in a calm monotone as the two colleagues walk through their workplace.

Dr. Murphy, our protagonist, then goes to meet Martin (Barry Keoghan), a teenaged boy, in a diner. Our first impression is that this is a father and son making time for each other, but when Murphy then presents the boy with a wristwatch as a gift and lies about how the two know each other to Matthew, we wonder what is going on.

Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) hears some troubling things from Martin (Barry Keoghan), the teenaged son of a patient he has befriended in "The Killing of a Sacred Deer."

Dr. Murphy has been married to his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) for sixteen years and they have an unusual but active sex life, along with two kids, 14-year-old daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and younger son Bob (Sunny Suljic). Is Dr. Murphy escaping the monotony of marriage with a boy barely older than his daughter? Not exactly, but their relationship raises questions for the viewer, even after Martin comes over for a family dinner and gets along with everyone, especially the two kids.

Martin appears to at least be on the autistic spectrum with his matter-of-fact declarations and need for Dr. Murphy's attention. Is the teenager trying to set up his hand-obsessed widowed mother (a brief Alicia Silverstone) with the cardiologist? It appears so. But there is more to the relationship that comes to light and it appears to put the lives of Murphy's two children at risk, when they both suddenly come down with paralysis of the legs that cannot be explained by a battery of medical tests.

Killing is absorbing, thought-provoking, and original. It's kind of a horror movie, though you don't realize that until well into the two-hour runtime. It's also kind of a comedy, though one that is as morbid as and even dryer than The Lobster. One of the funniest lines involves MP3 players, a major concern to Kim, who develops feelings for the frank, unfiltered, and potentially dangerous Martin.

Anna Murphy (Nicole Kidman) has a nighttime cigarette outside her house in "The Killing of a Sacred Deer."

Farrell is outstanding. He has really morphed himself over his two decades in film. He seems more comfortable in his two films with Lanthimos than he has been with any other director. Here, he embodies a character whose questionable judgment and flaws lie deep beneath a surface of evident professionalism. Kidman has far less to do, but she is compelling as the wife, a fellow doctor, who is kept at an arm's distance. Keoghan is the real revelation of the film. An English actor you won't remember what you recognize him from (Dunkirk),
he makes for a convincing American teenager who sparks amusement and then potential horror. The child actors playing the Murphy children are both good, as is Bill Camp in his few scenes. This is a movie that showcases strong acting, but you will likely be invested enough in the story to not just marvel at the performances, even if the methodical pacing allows you to do both with ease.

Unlike The Lobster, which went off the rails in its final act, Killing retains its grip on you until the very last scene, which is chockfull of meaning but requires you to do some decoding. The Lobster did not strike me as a film with mainstream commercial appeal, which made its respectable $9 million North American gross a bit of a puzzle and unprecedented among modest releases from young prestige-driven distributor A24. Killing would likely be thrilled with a similar performance, though that seems like a lot to ask of it, even with its filmmakers now being a somewhat known quantity.

Does Killing stand a chance of extending Lanthimos and Filippou's Oscar streak? Yes, but probably not a great one, even with its timing being more in line with an award season contender. After all, Best Original Screenplay rarely has room for more than two films not nominated for Best Picture and Killing certainly seems too different to crack a Best Picture field even presuming reviews are as favorable as they ought to be. With or without any awards buzz, Killing, a marked improvement over The Lobster, is a unique thriller you should see.

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Reviewed November 6, 2017.



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