May 29, 2018
Today’s movie is “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (2017), the psychological thriller directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and written in collaboration with Efthymis Filippou, based on the play “Iphigenia at Aulis” by Euripides. The film follows Martin (Barry Keoghan), a troubled young man who lost his father on the operating table under Dr. Stephen Murphy (Colin Farrell). Blaming the doctor for his father’s death, Martin places a curse on Dr. Murphy’s family, including Anna (Nicole Kidman), Kim (Raffey Cassidy), and Bob (Sunny Sulijic), which will slowly kill them all if the doctor doesn’t kill one of them first.
This film won the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017, which shows the power and timelessness of Greek tragedies, and their influence on first the stage, then the screen. In fact, the title itself, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is a reference to a supposed final act of “Iphigenia at Aulis”, where instead of sacrificing Agamemnon’s daughter, a sacred deer is instead offered up. And, in a sense, that’s exactly how this movie plays out, replacing an offering to the gods with a mysterious curse that medical science cannot explain. Which means nowadays, rather than epic fantasies and sanitized morality tales, Greek tragedy may have more in common with the horror and thriller genres.
I was really impressed by Lanthimos and Filippou’s script, especially its ability to tell a straight-ahead story that blends well with Lanthimos’ distinctive direction and composition, not to mention the excellent cast bringing the characters to life. The combination builds the tension slowly, turning the mundane into the menacing, remaining uncompromising in the curse’s steady progression. Every line has a purpose, but never feels forced, even the final rationalizations by Stephen and Anna as they ultimately decide which sacred deer to sacrifice.
The cast is quite amazing. Colin Farrell’s second run with Lanthimos shows the promise of a long-standing relationship. Nicole Kidman is rather reserved in her role, even with a slightly disturbing information-gathering scene. Raffey Cassidy’s character has quite a few turns, which she manages well. But Barry Keoghan’s Martin is a weird combination of sinister and unassuming, cutting like a knife when needed, and unafraid of whatever consequences may come.
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (2017) is not an easy movie for folks to watch, but reinterprets a classic Greek tragedy for the modern era within the psychological thriller genre. The film follows Lanthimos’ success with “The Lobster”, and will hopefully open the gates to more films from Lanthimos, and perhaps a few more based on classic Greek tragedy. Fans of psychological thrillers should definitely see this film, but be ready for classic tragedy, not the usual series of twists and turns you might be used to.
Rotten Tomatoes: 80% (CERTIFIED)
One Movie Punch: 8.4/10
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (2017) is rated R and is streaming on Amazon Prime.