The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Nov 1, 2017

And you thought this director's The Lobster was strange!

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Grade: B

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster)

Screenplay: Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou (Alps)

Cast: Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge), Colin Farrell (The Lobster)

Rating: R

Runtime: 2 hr 1 min

by John DeSando

“It's the only thing I can think of that is close to justice.” Martin (Barry Keoghan)

Justice, aka revenge, is just one of the motifs in this black, absurdist comedy called The Killing of the Sacred Deer. A wealthy family of two doctors is invaded by 16 year old Martin with that revenge on his mind.  If you keep Euripedes’ Iphigenia in Aulis in mind, where Agamemnon deals with Artemis over killing  her sacred deer and her demand that he sacrifice a daughter, you’ll get an idea of the Greek tragic overcast to the decidedly dark humor.

This is not a slasher movie with excessive blood and barely observable motives. Although the disturbing close up opening of a heart surgery hints at bloody business to come, minds move the plot, from the aforementioned vengeance to emotionless living where the beautiful home is as clinically sterile as the hospital in which the two children must spend time for psychosomatic or occult reasons.

For sure, however, is that the two children are made immobile by the force of Martin’s will, in a standoff with emotionally remote surgeon dad, Steven (Colin Farrell), over Martin’s obsession with Steven’s bungling his father’s operation, causing his death.

While Martin blackmails Steven with the most heinous condition for deliverance, we are treated to Kubrick-like long shots down antiseptic corridors to distance us from the horror of this doomed family’s life. Even their language is stiff and formal, measured out slowly as if in a bad Puritan-colonial drama. Such careless distancing leaves everyone off center, the better to show the class divide and the degradation of the wealthy.

All of this is comical when considering the black nature of it, but a feeling that revenge may be necessary is not far beneath the surface. Moreover, payment may be due for a cloistered, affectless life.  As usual in a surreal dissection of privileged complacency, the hollow house, an emasculating masturbation motif, and emotional negligence work together to undermine the surface happiness of wealth and power.

The theme of an outsider invading a home and changing things is given extra force with an absurd overlay. Maybe absurdists like Samuel Beckett and director Yorgos Lanthimos are better than the realists and we critics in exploring the terror of living.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at