THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER Review – Truly Unsettling, Genuinely Provocative

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Killing of a sacred deer reviewThe Killing of a Sacred Deer review by Staci Layne Wilson

If the idea of a Greek tragedy from a Greek film director seems too on-the-nose for you, don’t worry about it: That’s really the only predictable thing about Yorgos LanthimosThe Killing of a Sacred Deer. It’s a fresh, strange, titillating, thought-provoking and sometimes maddening take on the trope.

A classic Greek Tragedy is “a play in which the protagonist, usually a man of importance and outstanding personal qualities, falls to disaster through the combination of a personal failing and circumstances with which he cannot deal,” according to the dictionary. In this film that man is a prominent heart surgeon, Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell, oozing gravitas), who plays God every day and usually is successful. But when a patient dies on the operating table, the dead man’s teenage son Martin (Barry Keoghan, channeling Norman Bates) develops an odd fixation on the doc.

Maybe the preoccupation is harmless. After all, Martin certainly seems to love and respect the M.D. more than his own family does. Mrs. Murphy (a glacial Nicole Kidman) and their two kids, 15-year-old Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and preteen Bob (Sunny Suljic), just go through the motions every day. Until one day, quite literally “going through the motions” is impossible. The Murphy family suffers a strange and shocking onset of paralysis that cannot be explained. Not until Martin takes credit for being the cause of their misery, and lays out a list of demands for Dr. Murphy in order to atone. When the flummoxed surgeon is forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice to appease Martin’s sinister scheme, he turns the tables on the teen… or at least, that’s what he thinks.

While Lanthimos’ previous offerings – Dogtooth and The Lobster – earned acclaim, I never really got it. Now I do: The Killing of a Sacred Deer has the auteur’s stamp on it in the oddly stilted and overly enunciated dialogue delivery, as well as his trademark sublime cinematography (by Thimios Bakatakis) that’s as graceful in its beauty as it is austere.

But this isLanthimos most, for lack of a better word, commercial film. Or most accessible, anyway. There’s a definite Kubrick-meets-Polanski vibe to the flick in its subdued intensity. (In fact, some of the stirring score incorporates the strains of György Ligeti, a Kubrick go-to.)

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is an arthouse film for sure, but maybe with the talent on the marquee it will be seen by a wider audience. It’s one of those rare movies that’s darkly humorous, truly unsettling, heartbreaking and genuinely provocative all at once.

Rated R
2 Hours 1 Minute

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer review by Staci Layne Wilson

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Staci Layne Wilson

Staci Layne Wilson

Staci Layne Wilson is an accomplished writer / director / producer / film critic and the author the bestseller So L.A. - A Hollywood Memoir. Find her on

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