"Pretentious Pagan Perversity"
THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is a dark, pretentious pagan horror movie about a teenage boy with mysterious god-like powers who threatens the lives of a heart surgeon’s family because the doctor was drunk during an operation that killed the boy’s father. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER accomplishes what it sets out to do, but it wasn’t really worth doing or seeing, and it contains disturbing violence, some explicit lewd content, static dialogue and delivery in the first half, and a pagan worldview that misinterprets biblical prescriptions about justice and has a negative, jaundiced view of American suburban middle-class life that seems unjust and perhaps even political.
The movie opens with a close-up shot of a human heart being operated upon by a couple unknown surgeons. Cut to the main surgeon, Steven Murphy, during the operation as he discards his bloody gloves and surgical garb. The next scene shows him walking down the hall and comparing watches with the anesthesiologist. Both men speak in a monotone using static, uninteresting dialogue.
Shortly thereafter, Steven is talking with an unattractive, 16-year-old boy named Martin. They seem to have a close, platonic friendship, though both speak in monotones, using static dialogue.
Cut to Steven at home with his wife, Anna, their 14-year-old daughter, Kim, and 12-year-old-son, Bob. More monotone, static conversation occurs. The most conflict occurs when Steven orders Bob to get a haircut. Upstairs in their bedroom, Steven and Anna seem to be respectful but dispassionate and a little weird.
Cut to another day at the hospital. Martin, the strange teenage boy, meets Steven there. Then, they take a walk by a river, where Steven presents Martin with a gift, a nice expensive watch. Martin thanks Steven but asks if he’d mind if Martin replaces the metal band for a leather strap. Steven says, no, he doesn’t mind. Apparently, Steven is trying to be some kind of mentor to Martin.
Soon thereafter, however, the movie reveals that Steven was drunk the night he operated on the heart of Martin’s father. The father died, and Martin has ordered Steven to murder his wife or one of his children in recompense. Martin also has given a deadline by which to do this, or else Steven’s family will one by one become paralyzed, then become uninterested in eating, then have blood come out of their eyes, and then die.
It becomes obvious that Steven is trying to humor the crazed Martin. Of course, Steven can’t go to the police, because, then, he’d have to reveal he was drunk during an operation and lose his extremely lucrative livelihood.
Things take a turn when Steven’s son’s legs become paralyzed, and he starts to refuse to eat anything. A totally scientific man, Steven hopes against hope that Martin doesn’t really have the power to do this to his family. However, when the daughter develops the same symptoms, the menace that Martin represents becomes all too real for the Murphy family.
Will Steven really be forced to kill one of his family members to save the other two?
THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER seems like a horror movie above all, but it has elements of black comedy, suspense, psychological thriller, and drama as well. In the movie’s second half, when Martin’s true intentions are revealed, and Steven has to decide how to save his family, the dialogue becomes less static, monotone and dispassionate, except for Martin, the malevolent teenager with mysterious god-like powers. Thus, Steven and his family become more emotional, because they’re the ones under the most stress. Martin remains mysterious, heartless and single-mindedly insane. So, although static, monotone dialogue often is an example of bad writing and/or bad acting, here it does seem to serve a purpose. The question is: Was that purpose worth it?
MOVIEGUIDE®’s ultimate answer to that question is: No. Actually, THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER comes off as being rather pretentious and self-important. For example, although the opening shot of a heart operation is an understandable decision by the filmmakers, it’s really a rather off-putting, annoying, unnecessarily gruesome choice. There are other, more intelligent, more interesting ways to shock viewers or get their attention. Likewise, although the static, monotone dialogue in the movie’s first half seems to be done to show the dispassionate lifestyle and personalities of Steven and his family, it too comes off as rather pretentious, self-important and annoying rather than really illuminating or entertaining. In fact, it may remind viewers of the dialogue among the human characters in the modern sections of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Kubrick’s dialogue apparently is supposed to show viewers (at least partly) that humans have “evolved” to become more like dispassionate machines than real people, but it actually makes the drama in those parts of the movie static and boring. Thus, the drama never truly comes alive in 2001 until Hal the supercomputer goes insane. In between trying to mimic Stanley Kubrick, the first half of THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is somewhat boring, and the second half becomes perverse, disturbing and depressing, and also not very entertaining.
There are biblical connotations to the story in KILLING OF A SACRED DEER. For example, as the movie’s production notes discuss, Colin Farrell’s character suffers from pride. Also, the villain’s idea of justice seems to refer to the passage in Exodus 21:22-25 of the Hebrew Bible, where God tells Moses, “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman, and she gives birth prematurely, but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands, and the court allows. But, if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” In the movie, Martin takes this concept of punishment literally, an interpretation that the passage never intended. In reality, the passage is designed to limit the punishment that judges or magistrates can inflict on wrongdoers. That punishment is generally assumed to be “the price of an eye, a tooth, a hand,” etc., not the eye, tooth or hand itself. This can be seen by the content of Numbers 35:31, also in the Torah, where the punishment for all crimes, except the crime of premeditated murder with malice aforethought, which must ALWAYS be punished by death, is a “ransom” of money, the price of whatever the injury represented.
Ultimately, THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is a dark, pretentious arthouse movie with an abhorrent pagan narrative and worldview where a man is forced by a disturbed teenage boy with god-like powers to murder a family member. It has some extreme violence, including a close-up of a heart operation, a depressing ending, and some explicit lewd content. There are, for example, a couple weird where the mother is nude on a bed with the father, and a scene where the daughter, who turns 15 during the movie’s story and falls in love with Martin, offers herself to him, but Martin refuses. Finally, the movie seems to be a left-of-center critique of the American middle class and the American Dream.
(PaPaPa, FRFR, APAP, B, L, VVV, SS, NN, AA, D, MM) Very strong pagan worldview where a vengeful teenager with mysterious, god-like powers threatens the family of a heart surgeon, who was drunk when the boy’s father died on the operating table, a false view of biblical justice passages about “an eye for an eye,” and a negative, jaundiced view of American suburban middle-class life, but parents clearly care for their children and each other; three mostly light obscenities (one “f” word) but no profanities; extreme violence includes close-up of an open-heart surgery, heart surgeon takes off bloody gloves and bloody garb, blood starts to come out of two children’s eyes, man with hunting rifle shoots teenage boy in lower thigh, man punches teenage boy a couple times, teenage boy has bloody marks on his face (he loses a tooth after being punched), man has his family tied up and with hoods over their heads as he spins around and shoots a rifle, eventually killing son, who is shown with blood rolling down front of his shirt; doctor has wife of his colleague manipulate his genitals in order to get information she wants from him, woman lies naked in two scenes on bed with her husband there, husband lightly kisses his wife while she lies nude on bed, widow woman passionately kisses married man’s hand, but he leaves because he’s married (woman’s teenage son had blackmailed man to come over to his mother’s house), and teenage girl offers herself to teenage boy after stripping down to her underwear, but boy doesn’t touch her and simply leaves for home; upper female nudity in a couple scenes, full frontal female nudity in one scene, but it’s rather obscured and not totally explicit, rear female nudity in one scene, rear male nudity in one scene, upper male nudity in several scenes; brief alcohol use, and a couple references are made about surgeon being drunk during a past surgery, which led to the patient dying on the operating table; brief smoking; and, legs of two children become paralyzed suddenly, extortion, revenge, and 12-year-old boy asks 16-year-old boy to show him his underarm hair, and when younger boy says his father has more hair, the older boy later asks the father to show him how hairy he is and remarks that he’s not as hairy under his arm and on his chest as his son said he was.
THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is a dark, pretentious horror movie. It opens with a close-up of an open-heart surgery. Cut to the surgeon, Steven, who has a happy if somewhat dispassionate family life and a growing friendship with a strange 16-year-old boy named Martin. Eventually, it comes out that Martin’s father died on the operating table because Steven was drunk at the time. Also, Martin has ordered Steven to murder his wife or one of his two children in recompense, or Martin will cause them to die one by one.
The first half of THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER purposely features flat, static dialogue and acting, with an ominous soundtrack. Apparently, this is supposed to show that the surgeon’s life is dispassionate, with dark undercurrents. Whatever the case, these effects result in a rather boring experience. The movie’s second half is perverse, disturbing and depressing, and also not very entertaining. Ultimately, THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is a dark, pretentious, weird arthouse movie with an abhorrent pagan narrative and worldview, extreme violence, and some explicit lewd behavior.