It’s never a bad thing when a movie is hard to describe. That quality doesn’t guarantee greatness (or even goodness), but it almost always means the movie is unique in some way. The Killing of a Sacred Deer falls into this category, and I’ll do my best to review it here.
Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), a seasoned heart surgeon, enjoys a life of peace and privilege with his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and two children. In his spare time, he acts as a father figure to Martin (Dunkirk’s Barry Keoghan), a teenager whose own father died years ago. When a tragedy befalls Steven’s family, Martin reveals a sinister side and puts Steven in an impossible position.
While I’ve kept my synopsis purposefully vague, the designation that best fits The Killing of a Sacred Deer is that it’s a creepy kid movie, although given the other characters’ demeanors it would be more accurate to call it a creepier kid movie. The stilted, soulless delivery of the principal cast falls somewhere between The Stepford Wives and a Tim and Eric sketch, giving the dialogue an uncomfortably dissonant quality. Though the artifice subsides as the film goes on, no one ever sounds fully human, and the actors all prove up to the challenge. There’s perverse fun to be had watching A-listers Farrell and Kidman go purposefully off-key, though the movie’s best performance comes from newcomer Keoghan, who maintains Martin’s casual, borderline-disinterested way of speaking even during his most depraved moments.
Though the true premise of The Killing of a Sacred Deer is disturbing, the stylized performances preserve a distance between the audience and the horror of the situation. There’s also a streak of absurd humor running through the story, which persists even during the increasingly grim third act. The entire movie is an impressive tonal plate-spinning act; it’s simultaneously funny, discomfiting, and horrifying throughout, often shifting the genres’ hierarchy but never losing sight of any of them.
With its deliberate pace occasionally veering into tedium, The Killing of a Sacred Deer lacks the narrative discipline of a more conventional movie, and it sometimes bites off more story elements than it can chew. But despite these shortcomings, its originality, ambition, and fearlessness make for a memorable viewing experience. It’s a rare original in a sea of remakes, sequels, and adaptations, and that alone is worth applauding.