Tuesday, November 14, 2017

killing of a sacred deer

Seemingly there has been a slew of films lately with a broiling emphasis on shock and violence packaged in a polished, artistic sheen. Yorgos Lanthimos' (The Lobster) The Killing of a Sacred Deer, along with Darren Aronfsky's Mother!are those rare occasions where the boundary-pushing vision of a filmmaker is put on display for cushy seated multiplexes. It's hard not to compare these two pictures as they both share a confounding plot with a nightmarish sensibility. They are also slickly made and seductive; the tastelessness of some of the horror elements are in the forefront but they are also juxtaposed with "tasteful," graceful film-making. In that respect, these pictures owe much to Polanski and Kubrick. Deer, in particular, is a riff of sorts on Kubrick's The Shining. We even have the shaggy-haired young son of the piece, Bobby played by Sunny Suljic, bearing a resemblance to Danny Lloyd.

Deer is a hollow picture that looks incredible (supple lighting work and photography--the cinematographer is Thimios Bakatakis), centering upon a hollow family. We are introduced to them in their beautiful, sprawling home in a dinner scene that highlights their wan, somewhat lifeless personalities and peculiar precision with their speech and manner. Steve is a cardiovascular surgeon (bushy-bearded Colin Farrell) at the head of this opus, whose previous carelessness is coming back to roost. Because the film--seemingly rooted in Biblical and mythological lore--takes its sweet, dread-infused time to get to the mysterious perils that befall the family, it's a difficult piece to surmise without giving much away.

Despite the movie's repetition and pace--a heavy touch that doesn't really create potential comedy or suit the already lugubrious material, the film has some strong assets. Especially accordionist Janne Rättyä's cutting score cues (in the vein of Mica Levi). The flat line deliveries which worked so effectively as humor in the more funny and intriguing The Lobster is more safe and banal here. The main players help galvanize the movie as well. Farrell does his usual sturdy work and as his steely wife, Nicole Kidman, whose done some of her best work ever lately, commands a sort of strength and palpable, visual energy. The camera adores her in close-up, simultaneously aglow and bitterly icy. She's solid at portraying her characters' drifty convictions. It's fun to see Alicia Silverstone too in a small bit. But really the erratic heart pumping the film (the human heart anoints the opening--I had to look away) is Barry Keoghan as Steve's mysterious younger friend, who figures as a squirmy, hovering presence. It's an acrobatic, unmissable turn that piques curiosity about the story that may have been completely lacking without him. **1/2

-Jeffery Berg

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