Rated R for lots of weird reasons. Without being too overly spoilery, there's a lot of sexuality and a lot of misleading sexuality. That's really hard to explain. I will say that this is a hard R, but there are some things that appear to be truly filthy that actually aren't. Then there are some things that appear to be truly filthy that actually are truly filthy. There's just a lot going on here. Add to all this some solid violence and language and the movie just earns that nice A24 R-Rating.
DIRECTOR: Yorgos Lanthimos
I'm going to try to go spoiler free as much as I can in this review. I will say that reading this review is automatically going against what director Yorgos Lanthimos wants you to do. I have to believe this. When I saw the trailer for this, I had no idea what was going on. My wife and I used to joke that Mad Men did the same thing weekly. The clips in the trailer give you no context to what is actually happening and that's why the movie works really well. For fifty minutes, the plot is intentionally misleading. It plays up the idea of archetypes and tropes only to completely subvert these archetypes and tropes in exchange for a surreal story that is super compelling. The trailer is cryptic for a reason. The movie is meant to be entered blindly. If you want to know if you should watch this movie, all I should tell you is that, if you like absurd hard-R surrealism with emotional resonance, you should watch this movie. If you are at all squeamish about emotional stuff or don't really enjoy a movie that confuses you, avoid it. Everyone else who is interested in reading this review should have A) seen it or B) entered this knowing you aren't going to be watching this ideally. I suppose the third option is C) I'm not going to see it and the best thing I can do is pique my interest enough to know that this movie exists.
I saw this trailer almost immediately after seeing The Lobster. The Lobster is weird as heck. I like weird most of the time and The Lobster actually kind of hit a sweet spot with me. But the trailer for The Killing of a Sacred Deer is tonally very different, despite being weird. Lanthimos has this odd direction that he gives his actors. Everything is done with a flat affect, which is really bizarre considering the the tones of the two movies are very different. I will say that the main thing that separates these two movies is not film style or performance, but just the fact that The Lobster has funny moments. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is seriously intense from moment one. I guess you could find funny things to laugh at in Killing, but it's mainly on you for that one. Part of Lanthimos writing style, both dramatic and comedic, is the idea that people will be saying stuff that no person would naturally ever really say. But that's more of a matter of how uncomfortable you feel about surreal language. It's really odd. I love me some surreal screenwriting, but it is only successful if the characters somehow resonate outside of the words on the page. When Kim is talking about losing all of the MP3 players, those words are almost arbitrary. They are odd commentaries about possession and capitalism, but they aren't brow-beating. I get the vibe that Lanthimos just finds the world to be an absolutely absurd place, so he's using absurdity in his writing. Every part, even when it comes to killing (it's not a spoiler. The word is in the title), is so colored in the mundane. There is some high emotion in this movie. I mean, it is a very stressful topic. But the actual screaming and crying element is still maintained at a three...tops. There's actually a scene where Colin Farrell has to throw a temper tantrum. He's breaking plates and ripping apart a kitchen. But his emotion intensity matches almost everything else that is boring in his life. Maybe Lanthimos is noticing that reality isn't like the movies or that he just thinks its cool. I will consent that it is very cool, but it isn't even close to reality.
When looking at a movie like this, I don't know how to judge the effectiveness of the acting. My big message that I'm trying to convey is that each performance and casting choice is tonally perfect. Everyone seems to really get the mission statement of this film and I'm loving that beyond recognition. Each performance does what it need to do. Each performance is appropriately haunting. But none of the performances can really be standout performances with the exception of Barry Keoghan's Martin. (I hate that last sentence because I refute myself within the same sentence.) The kid is weird and weird looking. I'm sorry, but that's probably why he was cast. He is such a bizarre character that he drives the film. He holds all of the cards. Considering that the actual answer to what is going on is a bit of magical realism, it is frustrating to see this kid seemingly understand everything that is happening while sharing practically none of it. There were many times, because of Martin as a character, that I tried to explain what was happening to myself. Martin, at the 50 minute mark, reveals everything that you need to know about what is going on in this story. That explanation is phenomenally Spartan. Being me, I kept trying to put rules on that explanation. I love rules. No one can tell you otherwise. But me trying to put rules on the explanation is one of the more frustrating things I've done in my experience with film. I'm so used to searching for loopholes and work arounds and cleverness that I wasn't prepared for the fact that this was just a story about an impossible choice. I know that this was adapted from the tales of Agamemnon by Euripides. (I was tempted to crack open the collected plays that was just sitting on by bookshelf by the TV and pause the movie to appreciate it more.) But The Killing of a Sacred Deer really boils down the story to an impossible choice. It's why the title is just so perfect. It's really an on-the-nose title without being too obvious about the whole thing.
Visually, this movie is amazing. It's got that A24 vibe to it, but doesn't confine itself to an A24 mood. I'm so used to my A24 movies being low-light and grey movies and Lanthimos kind of takes the attitude of A24 to do something different. The movie plays heavily with the uncomforableness of artificial light. Considering that the protagonist is a doctor and that much of the film takes place in a hospital, there is this striking fear that comes with florescent bulbs. It's really fun. I don't really remember there's being a tint to the film. Rather, it seemed like Lanthimos was trying to make the world as overly bright as possible. It does the job. I have to say that Lanthimos is the kind of guy who gets his tone. Perhaps it might be a little easier to achieve when that tone is so in-your-face, but the mise en scene and the actors combined are completely blended together. There's nothing here that is trying too hard, but it is very obvious what he's trying to achieve. I don't remember any of the music choices, but that might be on me. It also could be about the fact that the individual elements seemed so seamless (seemed so seamless! What is wrong with me?) that I couldn't pick up on any of that. I actually, in retrospect, might think that large swaths of this movie might be without a soundtrack. It just adds to the uncomfortable factor that this movie really portrays. I started this recommendation with a brief explanation of who would and wouldn't like this movie. I like this movie a lot. It's, again, one of those movies that I wouldn't really want to watch again. I think I left The Lobster the same way. But this movie is far more uncomfortable about seeing it again. Both movies have this very mundane-yet-graphic sexuality to it. Like I mentioned in the MPAA section, there is a bit of a mislead. I wonder why Lanthimos decided to paint the beginning with a strong sexual undercurrent considering that the movie isn't fundamentally about sex at all. Like, I felt really icky in the first part of the movie. Remember, I decided to watch this with almost no knowledge of what was going on. That was Lanthimos's ideal situation. But he wanted us all to think that we were watching something fairly perverted only to undo all of that. Is it an attempt to place a degree of guilt on the viewing audience? I don't know. Regardless, it was a choice.
I loved this movie and I hope lots of my friends see it so I can talk about it. But I am also painfully aware that I don't think I could recommend it to anyone either. There's a lot to unpack with this movie and I should just find the crowd that has already seen it to discuss it. If you watch it, I'm not saying it is the most uncomfortable movie in the world. But the movie should make you pretty uncomfortable. That's part of the experience.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.