The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) Movie Review: Twisted genius, or perverted gratification?

Written and Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos (aka “the fucked up mad creator”)

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell

Trailer –

Before I begin, let me just say that in this review I don’t intend to discus any major plot, as that would deprive you of the experience that I had, watching the movie while on vacation, tucked in a hotel in Dalhousie at 12 in the night, transfixed with horror and with a chill running down my spine (the sub-zero temperature outside probably didn’t help either). Instead, as I write my review in the same night at 2, I’ll just make an attempt at penning in a coherent manner, the thoughts running in my currently incoherent mind.

I’ll give a few names of films that have similarly stirred the audience in the past, be it mainstream or art-house – The Exorcist, Psycho, Old Boy, Funny Games (nothing funny about it), Prisoners. The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the latest mad entry in a list of brilliant mad films from the mad mind of Yorgos Lanthimos, combines certain themes from these films, and a whole lot more of spine-chills and a pinch of the most deadpan black farce (to the point of not knowing whether to laugh awkwardly, be disturbed or cry). I was first introduced to his films when I had watched the crazily brilliant satirical, post-apocalyptic, dark humor film The Lobster, one of my highlights of the Mumbai Film Festival of 2015.  The Lobster intrigued me with its satire and some of the best black humor. The Killing of a Sacred Deer took me to a journey through some sort of a hypnotic purgatory, a ride where I was often tempted to just leave, but instead continued transfixed, to the point of wanting more. Yes, the kind of film that makes masochists out of us, without any regret.  If mainstream hardcore items like GOT give us a sense of guilty pleasure, films like Old Boy and now Killing of a Sacred Deer twists the audience into accepting some sort of perverted gratification. However, mind that I’m not saying this with any negative connotation.

To just give an idea of the theme, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is at once a Greek tragedy and a Cold Revenge film with a twisted, perverted sense of justice (Think Old Boy with a touch of farce). Based on a Greek Tragedy, Yorgos Lanthimos combines surreal, fantastical elements into the every-day life of a cardio-surgeon and his family who need to endure the most grotesque of sacrifices for the wrongs committed by the man of the family in the past.

Nicole Kidman seems to have got her acting mojo back in one of her more intense performances as she plays the role of the mother who has to endure her children’s suffering for no fault of their own. Her intense gaze at once combines a sense of helplessness, anger, dread and a cry for help. I would have never thought of Colin Farrell playing the lead role in such a film. But, like Jim Carrey seemed a misfit but somehow worked in Eternal Sunshine of the spotless mind, Yorgos seems to have found a way of casting Farrell in his mad films (Farrell starred in the Lobster as well), making full use of his deadpan expressions. Apparently, Farrell had declared that filming this made him “fucking depressed” by the end of it.

But among the main highlights of the film (other than the direction) is the performance of Barry Keoghan (whose big break was Dunkirk). Playing the boy who is the harbinger of doom for the cardiologist’s family, Barry’s stark hollow eyes will elicit feelings ranging from uneasiness, infuriating anger to helpless dread.

Another character of the film is the music and cinematography itself. The director alternates between classical to creepy and jarring music that acts as a portent of doom, leaving the audience with a sense of unease at the impending dread. The camera also adds to the unease, panning the characters from long hallways as if they were being followed. The aesthetics of the film are quite reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece The Shining.

In today’s age where the consumers are getting bombarded with media from all corners (films, music, TV series, online videos, social media, blogs, you name it), we as audience can tend to get desensitized to items, be it our reactions to violence, perversion, the grotesque or the sensational. In such a scenario, it almost seems that the entertainment media is competing against each other in shaking the audience with more content that can shock, disturb, tingle or provide us with a guilty pleasure in consuming it. Who would have thought that a TV series like GOT which has almost every known guilty pleasure to tickle us, would find its way into the mainstream even a couple of decades back. We, as an audience, have a guilty pleasure of craving for something that can shock us, chill us to the bone or simply give an almost twisted sense of gratification or guilty pleasure, it’s all there waiting to be watched.

Amidst the glamorization of violence and graphic content into mainstream TV, the impact of more art-house films such as Killing of a Sacred Deer may get diluted. Can films such as these be still perceived as a daring work of Art or does it get compared to commercial films with the sole purpose of tingling the audience. Is it a modern-day rendition of the Greek tragedies of yore coming from the dark recesses of a brilliant mind, or simply an arthouse version of Saw? That I guess will depend on the audience😊

My Rating – 8.5/10

Pathikrit Basu

A self-proclaimed cinephile

 

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