The Murphys, father Steven (Colin Farrell), mother Anna (Nicole Kidman), and children Kim and Bob, are a typical upper-class family. Everything changes, however, when Steven befriends Martin (Barry Keoghan), a teenage boy whose father Steven couldn’t save on the operating table. Martin becomes obsessed with the family, which brings about horrifying results.
Sacred Deer is loosely based on a Greek tragedy. The film is co-written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, the chap behind The Lobster. It’s a movie about a not-too-distant future in which people who are not married by a certain age are turned into an animal of their choosing. Just to give you perspective on the kind of filmmaking we’re dealing with here.
The movie does an excellent job of lulling the viewer into a false sense of security, right from the beginning. The screen is completely black, and then without warning segues into bright white lighting over footage of open-heart surgery. (According to IMDB, this is a real operation being filmed.) The technique continues throughout, with the actors delivering incredibly mundane lines (often about material things) in a bored monotone. For example, this exchange between Steven and his coworker Matthew:
Steven: “Nice watch.”
Steven: “What’s the water resistance?”
Matthew: “200 meters.”
Steven: “And it’s got a date display?”
Matthew: “Yes it does.”
Steven: “I might have gone for a metal strap instead of a leather strap.”
Steven: “Yes. I think I’d prefer a metal strap. I’ve had this one for years. It’s as good as new.”
Matthew: “What’s the water resistance?”
Steven: “100 meters.”
Matthew: “How long have you had it?”
Steven: “Nine years. A little bored of it, actually. I’ve been thinking of getting a new one for quite a while now.”
And it goes on.
Martin is similarly deceptive as well; when he’s introduced, he seems well-mannered and sweet.
But then he becomes creepy and stalkerish. ‘Okay,’ you might think, ‘This is just your average psychological thriller. We’re getting a throwback to early ’90s suspense about a seemingly perfect family or couple that becomes the object of a psychopath’s jealousy.’ But no, surprise again! Martin is carrying a curse borne of his anguish over his dead father: Steven’s family members are going to get sick and perish. If Steven chooses one to die, then the other two will be saved. If he refuses to choose, all will die. It’s hard to tell whether Martin has consciously cursed the Murphys or not, but he’s of course blandly accepting of the situation. The Murphys soon adjust as well, the siblings taunting each other about who will die first, Steven requesting that Anna make mashed potatoes, and Anna coolly deciding that one of the children should die instead of her, as she can have more kids.
Enjoying the movie requires patience. Initially, I was frustrated with the lack of emotional delivery by Farrell and Kidman, but I could tell that served a purpose and wasn’t just indifferent acting. It’s worth the wait. As I said, the horror sneaks up on you. Check it out if you’re in the mood for a profoundly disturbing slow burn.