The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) reviewed

I am due for a movie review. Oscar darling, Nomadland (2021), was probably my last film analysis. Of course, I’ve gone through a lot of flicks. I’ve sighted Ron Howard’s Rush. I borrowed DVDs from the library. They ranged from a provocative drama (Jungle Fever) to a recent smash hit: A Quiet Place Part II (2021). I took in a big blockbuster (Jumanji 2) and a foreign language pick (Never Look Away). As the title suggests, this week’s focus is more of an arthouse production. I’ve had a chance to watch this before but only got around to it yesterday. The premise intrigued me and the cast included Nicole Kidman, the veteran Aussie who makes good movies.

The family man

Sacred is a psychological thriller. The movie opens with cardiologist Stephen Murphy (Colin Farrell) performing an open-heart surgery. This looks more graphic than it sounds. His workmate, an anaesthesiologist, compares watches with him in the hallway. He learns that the latter has a 200k watch. The workmate vows that he could vouch for Dr Murphy and get him the same watch at half-price. The camera then cuts to a diner, where he meets young Martin (an impressive Barry Keoghan).

‘Why don’t you eat your chips?’

‘I like them very much. I’m saving them for last.’

‘I’m the same.’

We meet Steven’s family: his wife (Kidman), his daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy), and his son Bob. All indications point to a loving, close family. They live in a good, secure neighbourhood. Their house is fairly big. Kim is part of the school choir while Bob has recently taken to the piano. They intend to buy him one. When Martin comes to their house, Kim seems taken by him. They hang out in her room. Bob asks Martin if he has underarm hair, then tells him to show them. The latter obliges. Kim admits that he has a lovely body. Bob confesses that his dad has thrice as much hair on his upper torso.

The Pom pair

Kim and Martin agree to go for a walk. The latter balks at including the dog. He doesn’t want to separate the family canine when it fights with another brute. Steven tells Anna (the wife) that Martin’s dad perished in a car accident a decade ago. He has since taken Martin under his wing. At this point, allow me a pause. Both Keoghan and Cassidy are British actors. The former is the more seasoned of the pair while the latter was a teenager at the time of shooting. Like many British thespians, both had no trouble sporting American accents. In the same year, Keoghan starred in the acclaimed war film, Dunkirk.

Beautiful hands

Dr Murphy gifts Martin the pricey watch, complete with a metal wristband. The latter is grateful but replaces the strap with a leather one. The doctor had told him that the metal strap was more expensive but that he was free to choose as he saw fit. Martin invites him to his house, which he admits is in a far seedier part of town. They eat meatloaf and lemonade, Martin’s favourite. He urges the doctor to watch his favourite movie with his mother (Alicia Silverstone). Midway through, he excuses himself and says that he’s tired. Alone with his mum, she tells him that he has such beautiful hands. She proceeds to fondle them. Dr Murphy almost rushes out the door but the mum begs him to stay for dessert. As she starts smooching the doc, he tells her that he has a loving marriage and a happy family life. Later on, Martin tells Steven that they are perfect for each other.

Hair, lies, and helmets

Martin surprises Steven with a visit to the hospital. He complains of having a mysterious heart ailment. Steven runs a few tests at him, including an ECG. He is given the all-clear. Martin mentions his body hair with Steven. He drops at his moment with Bob and his observations on his dad’s follicles. Martin asks Steven if he could show him. Upon inspection, Martin says that Bob’s assertions were exaggerated. Later on, Steven tells Martin to give him notice before showing up at his workplace. Martin refuses to comply.

Subsequently, Dr Murphy stops answering Martin’s calls. He stands him up, leaving the latter feeling hurt and upset in the diner. Meanwhile, Martin ups the ante. He starts stalking Murphy and giving Kim rides in his bike. Steven asks his daughter if she’s riding without a helmet. She says that she uses Martin’s, which is untrue as they both ride helmet-less. One day, Bob is unable to get to school. Murphy thinks this a cruel joke until he realises that Bob cannot move his legs. They rush him to hospital, where doctors insist there’s nothing wrong. Bob is able to walk again, until he collapses after taking the escalators. They give him an MRI, which reveals no damage. Steven is convinced that this is one savage charade.

A persistent insect

Martin keeps hanging around, intent on meeting Steven face to face. In the upstairs cafeteria, the latter keeps trying to cut Sutherland conversation short, as he has important business. Martin summarises his in one go: ‘an eye for an eye.’ He’s convinced that Steven killed his father, who was a former patient. For that, he’ll make him pay. He intends to slay his entire family. First, by paralysing their legs. Second, they won’t eat. Third, they’ll bleed form the eyes, a sure fire harbinger of the next phase. Finally, they’ll perish.

The downfall

This is exactly what happens. Bob refuses to eat anything, even with his dad stuffing a donut in his mouth. His sister succumbs to the same malady, collapsing at choir practice for no reason. She’s unable to stand up. When Martin calls her, Anna tells her never to speak with him again and confiscates her phone. Kim mouths curses at Anna, who becomes enraged. Bob admits that he wants to be a cardiologist like his dad. The latter visits their school, where he learns that both his kids are well-liked and capable students. Kim read aloud her essay on Iphigenia in class. She excels at English while Bob is adept at Physics and maths. Both of them have not caused any trouble. Even when Steven tells his son a secret in the hospital corridor, the latter couldn’t snap out of it. Bob alleges that he has no secrets.

The hospital releases the pair, who are left to recuperate at home. Enraged, Steven grabs Martin and holds him hostage in their basement. When his wife finds out, she is against this. Bob’s condition worsens. However, even with her more placid approach, even as she kneels before Martin, her children do not ameliorate. Frustrated, Steven nags Anna about getting the tools to make their son whole again, even mentioning sorcery. In a last ditch attempt, Bob shears his own long hair in a DIY job. His father had always told him to shorten his locks. Martin’s prophecy materialises and the end beckons. In a full circle, Steven’s family bumps into Martin at the diner. When they leave, Kim casts a long glance at her ex.

Award winner

The use of Iphigenia as Kim’s essay topic was ingenious. The film is actually based on the ancient Greek tragedy. True to form, a Greek helms the flick. Sacred has received mostly positive reviews from critics. In particular, they praised Keoghan’s creepy performance. The film unfolded at a slower pace, which suits its modus operandi. When Kim and Martin hang out, you could observe the swaying of the trees and the rustling of the leaves. In the home setting, you would gawk at the darkened silhouette. Moreover, you could feel like an outsider watching the family. When Steven tells Bob to water the plants, this feels like a universal chore. In case you’re wondering, there aren’t any real deers in this one. The film contested the Palme D’or at Cannes, ultimately winning the Best Screenplay Award. Upon further web-based research, Lanthimos (the director) had worked with Farrell before. The Lobster was also lauded. The picture was not made to smash viewer records, but to win critics’s hearts. Sacred only managed $7 million at the box office but remains an unsettling and strange watch that is worth its running time.

Rating: 4.1/5

Film poster
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