*. In his New Republic review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer Christian Lorentzen begins by setting director Yorgos Lanthimos alongside a couple of his peers, Lars von Trier and Michael Haneke, judging that Lanthimos offers up “a decidedly sillier sadism.”
*. To these names I would add that of Fabrice Du Welz (Calvaire, Alleluia), another European director of the weird “new extreme” horror. All these filmmakers drench their dark, unsettling visions in an atmosphere of fantasy metacinema. In other words, it all comes with a nod and a wink that it’s all a joke anyway, even if it’s serious. Is that a paradox? Or a contradiction? Or even worth thinking about?
*. In terms of its overall tone The Killing of a Sacred Deer reminded me the most of Haneke’s Funny Games. A really detestable young man torments an upper-class family for no real reason. In this film Martin (Barry Keoghan) says he wants justice, even if it’s unfair. I don’t know what he means by that, but Steven seems far more sinnned against than sinning. As with the sadistic demons in Funny Games, Martin enjoys supernatural powers that allow him to control everything that happens. Even when he’s captured by Steven and tied up in the basement we never have any doubt that he’s still the one in charge.
*. The point being? I don’t know. This is a movie that from its title on down wants to suggest some deeper significance or meaning but I can’t see what it is. The only thing I can pull out of it is the old horror stand-by that our modern, comfortable bourgeois lives hang by a thread above a precipice of doom. See how quickly everything falls apart and goes to hell at the slightest disturbance of the natural order? Like when you invite a stranger into your home?
*. I want to turn to a couple of common critical responses to the film.
*. In the first place, and the bit I quoted from Lorentzen already is just one example, many reviewers referred to The Killing of a Sacred Deer as being funny or a black comedy. I think this is stretching things. It’s a weird movie in a David Lynch sort of way, but I don’t see where there’s much that’s funny going on. At the end there are a couple of gallows humour passages, like Steven trying to decide which of the kids to kill based on what their principal has to say about them, but aside from that it all seems pretty grim. Weird, but grim.
*. The second point has to do with the title, which apparently directs us toward the story of Agamemnon having to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to get a wind to sail the Greek ships to Troy. Again, I find this a major stretch. What any of this has to do with Euripides, or Greek legend in general, is beyond me. Critics fell over themselves to talk about the film’s heavy sense of fate or doom, and I suppose you can say this is related to Greek tragedy, but that’s kind of vague and general, and in any event I don’t really see this as a movie informed by much of a sense of fate either.
*. Speaking of Iphigenia, I’ve always been curious as to how this name is pronounced. Most Americans pronounce it Iff-ih-JEEN-ee-ah. And that’s how it’s pronounced here by the school principal. Most classicists, however, say Iff-ih-juh-NYE-ah.
*. Anthony Lane: “To be in any Lanthimos movie is to be semi-zombified. You don’t have to gnaw on other people, but they barely react as you deliver morsels of awkward or outrageous information.” It’s all in the lack of any intonation. Everyone delivers their lines, however strange, in a clipped manner without any emotion. I can’t even tell when someone is being sarcastic, or threatening. But what is the point of this? Just to increase the weird factor? To make it harder for us to read what is going on?
*. Apparently Lanthimos thinks dialogue is supposed to be like music, but it sounds more like some kind of symbolic structuralist simulacrum of speech to me. There’s no rhythm or music to it and it has the stilted quality of dubbing.
*. On the subject of music, the soundtrack here sounds like a Denis Villeneuve movie. Which is fitting, since in a lot of ways it looks and plays like a Denis Villeneuve movie as well. He may be the director Lanthimos resembles most, though I think they have different broader philosophies.
*. Another movies I’ll throw into the mix is Fatal Attraction. I guess Martin is on a mission to avenge his father, but as I’ve said, there seems to be a wild disconnect here. Instead of this, he seems more fueled by a sense of being personally slighted. Note how he reproaches Steven for not giving him enough time and warns him not to stand him up. Meanwhile, Steven is clearly cheating on his wife and family to meet with Martin and Martin’s mom (though he’s not interested in her at all).
*. Where are we? The exteriors were mainly shot in Cincinnati but I don’t think a location is ever mentioned. It’s probably supposed to be the U.S. but the leads aren’t American actors. The universality of myth? I’d like to think that’s the point, but then I’m so fuzzy on what the point is that I can’t say.
*. Well, it’s a curiosity. At the end, however, I thought it fell flat — and I say that as someone who quite liked The Lobster. Sometimes ambiguity and obscurity go too far, and in the end I thought this was too unlikeable a movie to want to spend more time trying to interpret it. The thing about myth is that it works on different levels of meaning, but I don’t think The Killing of a Sacred Deer does. It doesn’t add up for me on any level, which left me thinking it was just a pretentious experiment that failed.