The Killing of a Sacred Deer

The Killing of a Sacred Deer ★★★★


Tone is everything here—I'd love to know how much painstaking trial-and-error was involved in crafting such magnificently stilted, awkward performances from these accomplished actors. Barry Keoghan, in particular, creates the uncanny impression of an apologetic automaton; the scene in which he explains the "rules" to Farrell, reciting them in the rushed, rotely memorized manner of a 7th-grader giving an oral report (and highlighting this by briefly resuming his "normal" speech pattern at one point before resuming the litany), creates such an air of clinical detachment that charges of gratuitous sadism just seem silly. Lanthimos augments this strategy with formal expressionism ranging from Kubrickian Steadicam follow-shots to De Palma-esque God's-eye views to Assayas-style creeping surveillance à la demonlover to I kid you not there's even a swoony motorcycle embrace out of Hou Hsiao-hsien. Narrative has some dead ends—Martin's stint in the basement ultimately serves little purpose, especially given the abrupt way that it's resolved, and the final scene is more diffident shrug than chilling epilogue—but I was riveted start to finish. And once I understood and accepted that the morality/righteousness of Martin's "actions" is irrelevant, i.e. that we're in the realm of punitive myth, the film worked for me as a portrait of a man intent on abdicating all responsibility, a sort of Sophie's Non-Choice. As horrific as that moment is, imagine if she had solicited recommendations from bystanders and then ultimately chosen to flip a coin. Better or worse?

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