Though there’s minimal bloodshed, director Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is a horror movie in the truest sense, as this dark, formalistic drama centers on the scariest thing a parent could face: the possible death of their children.
Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a man who prevents death, a cardiologist who holds people’s beating hearts in his hands. But in the movie’s prologue, he’s unable to keep his patient from dying on the table. He moves on, chatting with his anesthesiologist, Matthew (Bill Camp), about the quality of their expensive watches.
Then Steven goes home to his adoring wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman), an ophthalmologist, and their loving children, 14-year-old Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and 10-year-old Bob (Sunny Suljic). He spends the occasional lunch hour with Martin (Barry Keoghan, from “Dunkirk”), a 16-year-old lad who wants to become a cardiologist. Steven feels sympathy for Martin, we learn, because the boy’s father was Steven’s unfortunate patient.
Things take a disturbing turn when Martin plays matchmaker between Steven and the boy’s mother (Alicia Silverstone), an offer Steven rejects. Then something seemingly unrelated happens: Bob suddenly loses feeling in his legs and cannot walk. But Martin tells Steven there is a connection, and things will get worse unless Steven makes a drastic choice soon.
Lanthimos, who directed Farrell on the satirical “The Lobster,” and writing partner Efthymis Filippou create a stark tale of a successful couple driven to the point of madness as their children suffer from a mystery ailment. The desperation brings out ferocious performances from Farrell and especially Kidman, who gives Anna the maternal instincts of a lioness.
What’s most striking about “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is Lanthimos’ tightly wound direction, which features stately camera moves through sleek modern medical facilities and perfectly composed shots within the Murphys’ home. Lanthimos, deploying Thimios Bakitakis’ controlled cinematography and Yorgos Mavropsaridis’ economical editing, creates a look reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s work in “2001,” “The Shining” and “Eyes Wide Shut.”
Like Kubrick’s work, though, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” has a sterility that may also leave some moviegoers cold. Lanthimos doesn’t make movies that are easily digested, and this one provides the viewer plenty to chew on as it moves inexorably toward its shattering conclusion.
* * * 1/2
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Married medical professionals are driven to the brink when their children are imperiled in this dark and artfully constructed drama.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens Friday, Nov. 3.
Rating • R for disturbing violent and sexual content, some graphic nudity and language.
Running time • 120 minutes.