The Killing of a Sacred Deer ★★★★½

After mother! we got another movie that's chock-full of Biblical metaphors, but this time the metaphors are not the point, they're just a vessel. Yorgos Lanthimos mashes up the Biblical God with the gods of Greek myths to convey a story about how a toxic domestic atmosphere of lies and deceit can ruin a family.

It's no surprise that Martin, the kid with godlike powers played by Barry Keoghan, loves Groundhog Day, a movie about an unexplained karmic power that probably stems from the subconscious regrets of the protagonist to intervene in his life. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a surgeon who keeps many secrets. At the beginning of the movie, he is barely able to keep his secrets away from his home and from his workplace. He meets Martin only in neutral places until suddenly Martin shows up at the hospital, as it gets harder for him to compartmentalize his regretful thoughts about killing a patient. Later in the movie, Martin shows up at their home, and first, he is greeted with openness, but later his presence comes as a burden. He is kept as a prisoner in the basement, but even from down there, his influence is felt, as he slowly poisons the relationships between Steven's family members.

Each family member represents a different level of repression or secrecy. Steven's youngest, Bob, with his unkempt hair, untainted by civilization, is the most naive member of the family, who doesn't even have any secrets. He says so to his father, a well-groomed, bearded man who pays a lot of attention to his appearance and has a lot to hide. Bob later becomes more familiar with the inner workings of our civilized society built on deceit. He tries to manipulate his father by telling him that he chose him as a role model, even cutting his hair to match his father's request. Just like Bob, all other members of the family get more and more tangled in a web of lies thanks to Steven's secrecy. Nicole Kidman's Anna has sex with Steven's colleague to obtain classified information from him, Raffey Cassidy's Kim presumably makes a pact with Martin, not knowing that Martin likely never meant to keep his end of the bargain. Martin himself, an outsider to Steven's family, starts out the movie by telling Steven that he cut his hair, knowing that that's something Steven would likely appreciate. This exchange kicks off a long series of manipulation and deceit.

Yorgos Lanthimos directs his movie with a firm hand. The staccato, artificial line delivery that is closely associated with his filmmaking style is only rarely broken apart from. In moments when the absolute raw feelings come to the surface, we see the characters speak more naturally. Colin Farrell's Irish accent subtly (but probably not intentionally) appears in these moments, making them even more unsettling. It's a testament to Lanthimos' ability that these loud, honestly emotional moments do not come through as powerful and relatable, but as disconcerting and uncomfortable. The camerawork certainly helps here, Lanthimos' longtime collaborator Thimios Bakatakis takes his cues from Stanley Kubrick's distant but effective works like Barry Lyndon and The Shining, with slow zooms taking the place of establishing shots. This not only helps alienate the characters but uses the environment as an oppressing, menacing presence, making you feel unsure what hides behind the perspective of the lens.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is only my second entry to the Greek director's filmography, and I can only imagine how much is left to unpack here. Compared to The Lobster, another film that explores artificial relationships and repressed emotions, this movie is harder to digest but is overall a more satisfying experience.