During a press conference at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, noted cinematic auteur Yorgos Lanthimos remarked that his new film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, was originally intended to be a comedy. He noted, however, that when the actors arrive on set and the film moves into the editing room it can transform into something else entirely. While there are some sporadic laughs in Lanthimos’ follow up to 2015’s The Lobster, the end result is a piece of riveting and disturbing drama that may leave you reeling.
Using Cincinnati as a backdrop for a generic American city, Deer begins with a close up of a real human heart exposed on an operating table. Franz Schubert’s grand symphony “Stabat Mater D383: I. Jesus Christus schwebt am Kreuzel” blares as the camera pans back and a surgeon prepares to engage an organ that continues to beat unprotected from the outside world. It’s an intense image foreshadowing that in the one man life can delicately dance on the precipice of death in the hands of another and those actions have consequences.
At the center of Lanthimos’ tale is Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell, incredible), a top cardiologist who at first glance seems to be living an idyllic suburban existence. His wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman, making it all look so easy), is also a successful doctor, and they have two children, a teenage daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy, gutsy) and a younger son Bob (Sunny Suljic, talented). Strangely, Steven also has an odd relationship with an older teen, Martin (Barry Keoghan, wonderfully disturbing). They meet at a diner for a meal and then talk by the river. Steven puzzlingly gives him a watch as a gift. Steven introduces him to a work colleague as schoolmate of his daughter when that is simply not the case. Martin comes over to have dinner with his family even though they are all unclear how Steven knows him the first place. And it all seems slightly (emphasis on slightly) odd to Steven’s family and co-workers. They barely question it, however, because why would anyone believe a kind-hearted and pillar of the community such as Steven would give them cause to?
The twist is that Martin increasingly appears psychologically disturbed, perhaps even developmentally disabled. No matter how odd his actions or speech, he’s blatantly obsessed with Steven and Lanthimos has no problem insinuating there is some sort of inappropriate relationship occurring between them. It may be a red herring (and one that plays out slightly longer than necessary), but it specifically sets the tone for the disturbing events to come.