Fresh on Blu-ray: ‘THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER’ – an eccentric folktale about cosmic balance

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Preston Barta // Featured Editor

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER

Rated R, 109 min
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin FarrellNicole KidmanBarry KeoghanAlicia SilverstoneRaffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic
Available Tuesday on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.

As we saw in 2017, with polarizing titles like A24’s IT COMES AT NIGHT and more recently with Darren Aronofsky’s MOTHER!, we’re in an interesting time with studios betting on bold filmmakers and their artistic visions. And whether these movies are so good they align with our taste buds or so appalling they have us waving the white flag, it’s astonishing to see where we’re heading.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest trip down the rabbit hole, THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER, very much falls into this bracket of filmmaking. It’s a divisive movie that exists in its own vacuum and doesn’t give a damn if you like it or not. It puts your limitations to the ultimate test, especially if you are a parent, but it also does so to the point of admiration.

From a mind akin to Stanley Kubrick, Lanthimos’ paralyzing film follows a Cincinnati surgeon with some skeletons in his closet. When our protagonist, Steven (Colin Farrell), unexpectedly reconnects with the teenage son (Barry Keoghan) of a man he once lost on the operating table, some sinister events of biblical proportions happen. No one in Steven’s family (Nicole Kidman, Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic) is safe, and it drives the doctor toward the unthinkable.

Like any serious drama, SACRED DEER takes its time wrapping you around its crooked finger, and you feel that through its deeply disturbing atmosphere that emerges off the screen. But as strange of an experience as the film is, it eases you into its oddity through outrageous bursts of humor, something lesser filmmakers fail to accomplish with works that are hard to sink our teeth into.

Just to give you a taste of how unorthodox this film is, look no further than Keoghan’s teenage character, Martin. Keoghan wears the skin of Martin like it’s his own, fitting seamlessly even into the eerie, deadpan way of talking that Lanthimos evokes.

Barry Keoghan as Martin in ‘THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER.’ Courtesy photo.

“Being a part of this movie and delivering our lines in a matter-of-fact tone was a refreshing experience,” Keoghan said. “I wouldn’t necessarily like for every movie experience to be like this, but saying Lanthimos’ dialogue in this certain tone with no emotion attached was wild. The film was dark enough already without having to attach emotion to it. This just felt like you were on another planet.”

Like Lanthimos’ previous work, such as last year’s THE LOBSTER (also starring Farrell), the most impressive elements of SACRED DEER is the subtext and how it manages to reflect how strange our social pressures are. So much of this film revolves around the theme of balance. For every good thing, there has to be a bad one. If one person is one way, the other is their opposite.

“The best thing about a movie like this is how people can go away hating it or adoring it. I want to work on these kinds of films where you don’t always walk away satisfied. Instead, you leave challenged and pulling at the thread of the film’s obscurity. Everyone has a different interpretation of it, whether it’s mythological or weird for the sake of being weird. It gets under your skin.”

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER doesn’t just get under your skin; it lives there. It attaches itself like a leech, forcing you to face feelings you may not want to, haven’t before or some you may not have thought you could feel. This is why Lanthimos is a master filmmaker: He knows how to cook your nerves on high heat and leave your mouth agape.

So prepare to laugh when you feel that it is not appropriate, shriek when it pushes your buttons and exit with a different perspective about your surroundings.

[Grade: A-]

Special Features: The Lionsgate Home Entertainment release includes one featurette (“An Impossible Conundrum.”)

Note: Interview with Barry Keoghan was done at Fantastic Fest 2017.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.