When Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos made his English language debut with The Lobster in 2016, he exposed American moviegoers to his special brand of weirdness. It’s apparent he has much more where that came from, as his new film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, is every bit the equal when it comes to WTF moments.
Colin Farrell is back for a second go-around with Lanthimos as Dr. Steven Murphy, a cardiovascular surgeon who has a good life with his ophthalmologist wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman), and two children, Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic). Out of guilt or remorse, he also has become friends with Martin (Barry Keoghan), the teenage son of a patient who died under his care.
What begins as a nice gesture soon comes back to haunt him, as Martin starts demanding more and more of Steven. When Steven is unable or unwilling to go along with Martin’s wishes, Martin descends into a spiral of anger that involves Steven’s entire family.
If you saw The Lobster, you may remember that almost every character spoke in an emotionless, matter-of-fact monotone. The method that worked so well there is back with a vengeance here, with hit-and-miss results this time around. While hearing characters talk with each other with often unnecessary honesty can be interesting and funny, there seems to be no real point to it in this film.
The Lobster started off with an out-there premise, making the odd behavior of the characters acceptable. Here, though, everyone appears to be living in a relatively normal world, and the idea that they would just speak blunt truths all the time doesn’t ring true.
That is especially the case when things take a turn for the worse. Martin poses a terrifying threat to Steven and his family, and yet the way they all react is about as far from normal as you can get. The allegory Lanthimos was trying to get across in The Lobster shone through the strangeness, but here it’s as clear as mud.
The whole thing would be hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic. The only genre the film fits into is thriller, but the story moves so slowly that it’s far from thrilling. The film's conclusion is horrific by any measure, but its impact is dulled by the two hours of lifelessness that precede it.
The best thing that can be said is that every member of the cast commits completely to their roles. Farrell has the Lanthimos method down pat, and Cassidy, Suljic, and Keoghan are equally adept. Kidman is the only one who “struggles,” which is to say that she actually shows a modicum of emotion from time to time.
Every director has his or her quirks, but the best ones know how to adapt those quirks to the story at hand. Lanthimos tries to put a round peg in a square hole in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and the fit is just as poor as you would imagine.