“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”: “Lobster” director plays again on our unspoken fantasies to build horror
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” opens with a beating heart, encased in a chest cracked open like “The Lobster” (May 22, 2016). Then we see a surgeon take off his gloves and dispose of them. We see his sleek hands (a line later used a few times in the script written with Efthymis Flippou), and that at least his forearms are still softly haired, as if the ultimate future of infection control were not yet in place.
I’m introducing the latest quirky horror comedy (or satire) from Yorgos Lanthimos, and it has a plot concept that feints of ephebophilia, and then plays on male fetish obsessions that have been frankly significant in my own life to build a plot and a rather horrific and tragic climax.
The music score, with Schubert, Bach, and especially Lygeti, underlines the urgency for the characters, but maybe it could have added Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (“Songs of the Death of Children”).
Stephen Murphy (Colin Farrell) is the heart surgeon and cardiologist in a Cincinnati hospital. (The city looks sharp in the film, especially in multiple scenes across the Ohio river from Covington, KY.) In his past, he once lost a patient at age 46 apparently during some routine bypass surgery. That patient’s verbal teenage son, Martin (Barry Keoghan) starts showing up in Murphy’s life, mostly by self-invitation.
Murphy has built an impressive family in his palatial home, with wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and gender fluid son Bob (Sonny Suljic) and teen daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy). At first, the daughter teases Martin about his lack of body hair (some teens would normally have more) and Martin pretends to be ill and shows up at Murphy’s office for a physical. There is a scene with a stress test, with eight leads, where Martin asks what would happen if he were hairy, and Murphy admits he would have to be chest-shaved, and that it could take a little while to grow back. Murphy even gets into mention of “hormones” (reminding me of my own Ft. Eustis days). Martin even asks to see Murphy’s chest. There’s also, as I recall, an odd line about replacing a grabby metal wristwatch with leather. Martin acts as if he believed the world had some sort of fascist conspiracy to eliminate less desirable men (like the Nazis did) as if this could be eroticized. For a little while, the film has you wondering if indeed Murphy is falling into an illegal relationship with the teen boy.
But at midpoint, the film takes a surprising twist. Bob, and then Kim, develop a kind of guillain- barre syndrome, with intermittent and then persistent leg paralysis, when medical tests can find nothing wrong. In a particularly arresting scene Martin threatens Murphy by suggesting that he (Martin) is causing the syndrome with some supernatural curse.
I’m not sure that the conclusion, which involves some vengeful violence against Martin and then a lottery to find the “deer” is necessarily all that convincing. That’s a problem with setting up an erotic premise like this: it is hard to find somewhere to go.
Picture: Mt Vernon, Ohio, 2012, my trip.
Somehow the title and tone of this film reminds me of “The Killing of Sister George” (1968, Palomar, dir. Robert Aldrich, with Beryl Reid.) I;m also reminded of Judd Apatow’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (2005, Universal) with Steve Carell as hapless.
Name: “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”
Director, writer: Yorgos Lanthimos, wr with Efthymis Flippou
When and how viewed: Angelika Mosaic, 2017/10/29 fair crowd
Companies: A24, Film4, Hanway
(Originally Posted: Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017 at 8:30 PN EDT)