Every once in a while, a movie comes along that offers you the opportunity to be an insufferable snoot or an intelligent moviegoer. It all depends on your delivery – and the willingness of your audience (or friends) to grant you authority.
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, which screened Friday night at Fantastic Fest, is such a movie. You might be able to impress your date with your knowledge of classical Greek literature, or you might be a complete turnoff. It’s your gamble.
But here’s what you need to know. The director of the super-strange “Dogtooth” and “The Lobster” has come up with yet another stilted, deadpan feature that promises to confound those who aren’t familiar with Euripides.
Yep, we’re heading into that territory. At the film’s premiere at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, Lanthimos said he was inspired by Euripides when coming up with the screenplay, co-written by Efthimis Filippou.
Euripides had a wicked sense of tragedy. One of his plays focused on Agamemnon’s unfortunate daughter, Iphigenia. Agamemnon was told that he had to sacrifice the life of his daughter after he killed a sacred deer that was beloved by Artemis, goddess of the hunt.
There are several versions of the Iphigenia tale, and Lanthimos makes significant changes in “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” so you can rest easy that the movie hasn’t been spoiled.
Just know this: If you’re going to dissect or try to explain this movie to friends, you might want to google the Iphigenia story and go from there.
Now, for the basics of the movie. Colin Farrell plays a doctor who lives comfortably in an American suburb with his wife, Nicole Kidman. They have a son and a daughter.
Farrell’s doctor speaks in monotones, as does everyone else. It’s a flat kind of tone that belies the serious violence that’s on the way.
The official summary from the Cannes Film Festival, which has a love affair with Lanthimos, describes the movie this way: “Steven, a charismatic surgeon, is forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice after his life starts to fall apart, when the behavior of a teenage boy he has taken under his wing turns sinister.” The word behavior was spelled with a “u” in the Cannes program, but some word processors don’t like that pretense. (Beware of pretentiousness, which is a good motto for reviewers.)
Barry Keoghan (“Dunkirk”) plays the teen who brings this family so much trouble.
The reaction to the movie in Cannes was uneven, but the Hollywood Reporter gave it one of its best reviews, saying that the “impressive rigor of its craft, the skillfully subdued intensity of the acting and the startling originality of the story will make the film unmissable for anyone who cares about bold filmmaking.”
That might not be your assessment. But “Sacred Deer” has its moments, especially when the horrible twist occurs and the wife and two children must act quite differently, literally hoping to save their lives.
The climax is chilling. It remains to be seen whether a general audience will see it that way. You have the information you need to be intellectually hospitable – or pretentious – depending on your point of view.