No Deer Were Harmed in the Making of this Picture

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2017)

A couple of years ago there was a film called The Falling in which a group of girls suffered from a kind of hysteria that involved, er, them falling. A similar apparently psychosomatic, possibly supernatural, condition afflicts two children here — first Bob Murphy (Sunny Suljic) and then his older sister Kim Murphy (Raffey Cassidy) are paralysed from the waist down and then they stop eating, and it is threatened that they will start bleeding and then die.

This is all their father’s, Stephen Murphy (Colin Farrell), fault, as an alcoholic surgeon who has failed to save the life of the father of Martin (Barry Keoghan). Farrell is heavily bearded, at times recalling Wallace from Blade Runner 2049 so strongly that you do expect him to slice open a naked woman, but with perhaps more justification. His wife, Anna Murphy (Nicole Kidman), seems to like to pretend to be paralysed or dead, suggesting that such sex games might also lie behind the symptoms. She too is a doctor, but she seems to spend more time redecorating her clinic than doctoring.

Stephen has befriended Martin, possibly in guilt, possibly in genuine sympathy, but he tells lies about him constantly, informing a colleague that he is Kim’s boyfriend, and buys him an expensive watch. As the audience, we figure that Martin is looking for revenge much earlier than Stephen does and it is clearly going to be of the eye for an eye, Stephen has to lose someone he loves too, way. Hence the curse and the demand that he kill one of his children —although if Anna were to become paralysed I think the choice might be a little easier.

The dog, on the other hand, seems safe. Legit.

No deer are glimpsed, sacred or even (one wonders) scared.

It’s a claustrophobic film, although this is signalled by oddly dissociated shots following characters along corridors and roads, a couple of metres above them, at the risk of damaging light fittings and getting caught on trees. We too are trapped. And the Grand Guignol of the climax is neither grand nor guignol enough to satisfy, nor the comedy black enough. Keoghan steals the show, as perhaps the strangest young cove in a movie since Jamie Bell in Halam Foe. It also feels claustrophobic because I reckon it could lose half an hour as it takes so long to get to the bloody point.

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