Director Yorgos Lanthimos
THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER D
Ireland Great Britain (121 mi) 2017 d: Yorgos Lanthimos
Arguably the worst film seen all year, arriving in theaters with a dull thud, lifeless and humorless throughout, with a cruel streak that couldn’t get any uglier, where one is willing to sit through this drudgery with the hope that there will be a last minute twist that somehow puts this in a different light, but that moment never comes. Incredibly the writers, Efthymis Filippou and the director Yorgos Lanthimos, shared the best screenplay award at Cannes with Lynne Ramsay’s YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE, which seems like a ludicrous choice after seeing the film, especially since so many screenwriter accolades were already handed out to his previous film, 2016 Top Ten List #9 The Lobster, which thoroughly deserved the awards for humor and originality. This film has none of that, but simply feels like two hours of detestable unpleasantry that goes absolutely nowhere. Don’t believe the overhyped superlatives, as this film should have been called out for what it is at the outset, which is a complete waste of time, yet instead it is awarded with one of the coveted prizes at the most prestigious film festival in the world. Figure that one out. Lately Cannes has had a history of making controversial poor choices, but this one tops the list. "Movie filmed in Cincinnati booed at Cannes". While this practice is not new, awarding accolades for such incredibly downbeat material is. This is not an inspiring film and deserves to be walked out on in droves, which sometimes is the only way to send a message. As described by Michael Sragow of Film Comment, Deep Focus: The Killing of a Sacred Deer - Film Comment:
Lanthimos’s mode of riffing in a stiff, oracular manner can seem compelling and oddly funny, at least for a half-hour or so, even to skeptics like myself. Then we find ourselves following the four stages of aesthetic grief: denial (“No one, deep down, can take this seriously”); anger (“How dare he stoop to killing off the dog just to provoke us!”); bargaining (“If we regard this film as ‘pure cinema,’ it must get better”); and, finally, depression (“No, it doesn’t get any better”). Happily, for aesthetic grief, as opposed to grief, a fifth stage, “acceptance,” isn’t a necessity. We can always walk out of the theater.
For all practical purposes, that is the best recommendation, as this feels like a zombie movie without the zombies. Someone forgot to make this interesting. As is, this is a joyless piece of anti-theater, with insipidly dull and emotionally inert characters speaking to one another with no emotional inflection whatsoever, so it comes across as intentionally deadpan. However, whatever humor is to be found at the outset simply by the absurdity of what we are seeing dissipates over time, making the film something of a disaster in the making, as there is no reward for having to sit through this. Unlike early Warhol films, especially his films of duration, like SLEEP (1964) or EMPIRE (1965), which surprisingly offer a social commentary, the question always becomes, at what point do viewers develop the fortitude to walk out, as there is no reward for enduring images where nothing happens. After a certain period of time, you get the point. Whatever may be the original intent here is undermined by the film’s own twisted pathology, becoming a warped and darkly disturbing attempt to satirize an emasculated idealization of the suburban dream, sucking the life right out of you, where all that’s left is a pervading sense of powerlessness, and a futility to struggle against it. While one supposes there is an entertainment factor to see how issues develop and resolve themselves, yet this film offers no rewards afterwards. It’s not like we ever learn anything or gain any insight. Instead we’re left with a sick fever dream from which there is no escape. In the life of a successful middle-class physician (Colin Farrell), a single event alters his life, as he loses a patient on the operating table. Strangely and mysteriously, the physician meets secretly with what appears to be a mentally unstable boy (Barry Keoghan), a kid with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, the kind of person you’d walk away from the first chance you get. But the doctor invests time and patience, as we learn his father is the one who dies on the operating table, with this kid exacting revenge, claiming members of the doctor’s family will meet the same fate. One by one they will fall ill, their bodies failing them, until eventually they shut down and die. All this is explained very matter of factly.
Like some Twilight Zone episode, viewers may attribute supernatural powers to this thoroughly detestable kid, but nothing is mentioned in the film, so whatever viewers imagine likely comes from their own imaginations, as it’s not in the storyline. Little by little things get worse and worse, as first one kid and then the next succumbs to undiagnosed ailments that can’t be explained, despite thorough examinations from the best minds of the country. For a physician, whose arrogance has no bounds, educated in science and logic, and his ice-princess wife (Nicole Kidman), living the supposed perfect suburban life, this is more than they can stand, with the doctor browbeating his own kids in an attempt to usurp whatever power controls them. Again, all of this is done without an ounce of emotion from the kid, though the doctor loses it from time to time, acting on anger impulse, doing his best Charles Bronson imitation, but his threats fall on deaf ears. The kid has sinister powers. The dilemma is, if you just go ahead and get rid of the kid, then your own kids are already on a similar path, with no resolution, leaving you in a tough spot. Doing nothing means everyone except the doctor himself dies. However, if the doctor takes the life of one of his own kids, that would suffice. These are the rules of the game. In the film, having no other choice, everyone plays along, sucking up to this monster, resorting to all manner of horrid human behavior. Somehow, someway, viewers wonder if there will be an unexpected twist that swoops in and alters the endlessly bleak landscape. Don’t hold your breath. The question is whether anything profound may be drawn from this work, and whether putting the audience through the wringer of a torture chamber is the best way to unravel some essential truths. On both counts, the film thoroughly disappoints. Initial thoughts that come to mind is this could be an extension of the kid in Lynn Ramsey’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011), taking it even further, adding a supernatural element, while another variation is offering a contemporary setting for the Biblical story of Abraham who is instructed by God to kill his only son, Isaac, like sacrificing a lamb. Only when God can see that Abraham intends to obey him, binding his child and raising a knife to his throat, does he rescind his order, satisfied that Abraham has faith, allowing both to live. In the Lanthimos version, there is no God and there is no justice. Only a heartlessly futile existence.