The Killing of a Sacred Deer Review

While watching The Killing of a Sacred Deer, a passage from Stephen King’s Pet Sematary came to mind: “It’s probably wrong to believe there can be any limit to the horror which the human mind can experience. On the contrary, it seems that some exponential effect begins to obtain as deeper and deeper darkness falls — as little as one may like to admit it, human experience tends, in a good many ways, to support the idea that when the nightmare grows black enough, horror spawns horror, one coincidental evil begets other, often more deliberate evils, until finally blackness seems to cover everything. And the most terrifying question of all may be just how much horror the human mind can stand and still maintain a wakeful, staring, unrelenting sanity.”

Yorgos Lanthimos, director of the bleak but funny The Lobster, takes his penchant for the unpleasant to the next level with The Killing of a Sacred Deer. As the film unfolds and grows progressively disturbing, you can’t help but ask yourself, “Why am I watching this?”

To be clear, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a finely crafted film. With icy blue cinematography from Thimios Bakatakis, the film looks stunning, and the film’s score, comprised less of music and more of loud, heart-stopping sounds, is guaranteed to give you a touch of anxiety. But when all’s said and done, you might come away thinking that Sacred Deer was little more than a hollow exercise in cruelty.

Colin Farrell, sporting a dad bod and rocking a glorious beard, is Steven, a heart surgeon carrying on something of a secret life. Unbeknownst to his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and children Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic), Steven takes time out of his day to hang out with an altogether mysterious teenager named Martin (Barry Keoghan).

The Killing of a Sacred Deer keeps the true nature of Steven and Martin’s relationship a secret, but it becomes clear very quickly that Martin is not a normal teenager. There’s something inexplicably off about the kid, and it only gets more intense as the film continues down its dark path.

Steven soon finds himself faced with an unthinkable choice, and if he doesn’t act soon, his entire family might end up dead. To say more would spoil the surreal twists The Killing of a Sacred Deer keeps unveiling. Needless to say, what follows isn’t very pleasant for Steven or his family.

Farrell and Kidman are both great in their respective roles, with Farrell in particularly shining in the film’s first half as he garners big laughs from his dry line delivery. But the real standout is Keoghan, who steals the entire film with his funny, creepy Martin, who just keeps getting creepier with each passing frame. Keoghan is able to find the humor in his monstrous character, and that humor goes a long way towards keeping The Killing of a Sacred Deer from being a crushingly bleak experience.

But the darkness eventually overcomes it all, as I suppose it must. Tragedy wins out over comedy, and the last half-hour of Sacred Deer descends into the pits of misery porn hell. There’s nothing wrong with a dark movie, but the darkness should be in service of something beyond breaking the audience’s spirits. Because if that’s the true goal, to push the audience to the point that Stephen King pondered in Pet Sematary, where we’re left wondering “how much horror the human mind can stand and still maintain a wakeful, staring, unrelenting sanity,” then why bother at all?

Still, there’s enough talent on display here, from direction to performances, to warrant a watch. But when the credits roll, don’t be surprised if you find yourself wishing The Killing of a Sacred Deer would lighten the hell up just a little.

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a writer who frowns a lot. He's contributed to CutPrintFilm, /Film, Mashable, The Film Stage, Birth.Movies.Death, The Playlist, Paste Magazine, Little White Lies and O-Scope Musings. 'The House on Creep Street' and 'Beware the Monstrous Manther!', two horror books for young readers Chris co-authored with J. Tonzelli, are available wherever books are sold. You can follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413