Steven (Colin Farrell, "The Lobster") is a respected heart surgeon with a beautiful wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman), two lovely children, 14 year-old Kim (Raffey Cassidy, "Tomorrowland") and 12 year-old Bob (Sunny Suljic), and a stunning home. But he's harboring a terrible secret, one which gives the 16 year-old Martin (Barry Keoghan, "Dunkirk") he's been clandestinely taking under his wing, leverage of a horrific nature in "The Killing of a Sacred Deer."
The latest feature from cowriter (with Efthimis Filippou)/director Yorgos Lanthimos ("Dogtooth," "The Lobster") is once again concerned with rules, most absurdly, personal preferences as a means of control, most terrifyingly, the fairy tale ultimatum wielded by the film's wolf in sheep's clothing. Lanthimos's dark brand of humor can be found here, but its pitch is so black, his two main protagonists so unsympathetic, those who discovered the filmmaker with "The Lobster" may find less to like here.
Speaking of black, a black screen accompanied by classical music greets us, Lanthimos's first shot an extreme closeup of heart surgery in all its beating, bloody glory. Afterwards, Steven and his anesthesiologist Matthew (Bill Camp, HBO's 'The Night Of') walk down the hallway discussing the merits of steel vs. leather watch bands. Steven's a steel man and Matthew offers to hook him up with a patient who can sell him a new watch at a discount. Later that evening, Steven's wife will ask 'general anesthesiology? before draping herself across their bed while Steven pleasures himself.
We soon learn why Steven wants a new watch. It is a gift for Martin, who will have replaced the watch band with a leather one the next time Steven sees him. He has the young boy over for dinner. Martin presents Anna with a bouquet of roses, noting that he knows she prefers orchids, which he could not find. Martin's politeness impresses all, particularly Kim, who quickly forms a crush on him. But then Martin invites Steven to his 'not as nice' house in his 'not as nice' neighborhood. After dinner, he insists they watch his favorite movie ("Groundhog Day"), but quickly leaves Steven alone with his mother (Alicia Silverstone, "Clueless") who elaborately compliments the surgeon's 'beautiful' hands, then begins sucking his thumb. Steven makes his escape. Martin's manipulations thwarted, he arrives at the hospital complaining of the chest pains which led his father into Steven's operating room. The boy is fine, but soon Bob will not be, stricken with a paralysis that defies all medical explanation save the psychosomatic. It is the first prophecy Martin has made about Steven's family, certain doom following if the surgeon does not act.
As per usual in Lanthimos films, all characters speak in a monotone, the actors conveying emotion through facial expression. This device in combination with the sterility of the frequent hospital settings keeps us at a chilly remove. Tonally, the film is reminiscent of Michael Haneke's "The Seventh Continent." Keoghan maintains a difficult balance of innocence and maliciousness, a 'good kid' hellbent on vengeance, but we never really get to know him. We never really get to know any of these characters, a Stepford family of outward appearances, cigarettes suggesting inner moral decay. Only Kim will rebel, choosing to eat her french fries first at the diner Martin favors.
Robin did not see this film.
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