I went into "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" knowing that it was based on an ancient Greek tragedy which I had not read and that the trailer was ...pretty weird. So I was braced for something more auteur and symbolic that I would have to retrospectively interpret and extract meaning from, not something immediately tangible or obvious.
However, try as I might, there was not one meaningful thing I could extract from this ponderous, drawn out mess of a film. I am not familiar with Yorgos Lanthimos's previous work -I have not seen the Lobster- but I'm told TKOASD is very much in keeping with his stylistic quirks; Emotionally vacant, surrealist art installations masquerading as film.
A brief, spoiler-free summary of the plot: A heart surgeon, his wife and two children are befriended/stalked by a mysterious teenager who's strange mannerisms belie a dark, twisted plan and a destructive supernatural power. The plot and its fantastical leanings didn't bother me. What did bother me was the awkward execution.
The cast of one dimensional archetypes all ramble their lines in a robotic manner, their eyes fixed in a detached, glacial stare. It is impossible to connect with any of them on an emotional level, even when the stakes rise and certain characters are met with horrific choices, the focus seems to be less about conveying the emotional depth that a real person might plunge to in those circumstances, and more about favoring the artifice of the shot. Barry Keoghan's Martin -the malevolent teenager stalking the family- is perhaps the only character served well by this robotic approach. His monotone aloofness, combined with his shifty vacant eyes make him feel all the more disturbing and unpredictable.
Colin Farrell on the other hand, gives one of the most stultifying performances of his career. His character, Stephen, a heart surgeon and father of two, is so utterly devoid of pathos, employing his frowny face and flat middle-class Dublin cadence to every line, he fails to make Stephen believable or likable, even when he's blubbering snot all over himself in one incongruously candid scene, it feels artificial and contrived, as in the next scene he goes right back to being a cold, miserable android again.
Nicole Kidman does a better job with her material as Stephen's wife, at least her delivery is the least morose of the lot, but her performance is still frustratingly restricted in places where it should be amplified, making her mostly unsympathetic.
Stephen's children, the innocent victims of Martin's vengeful plot, should surely have some element of likability if we are to feel any fear for their predicament, but alas they too are passive, unfeeling robots who fail to engage.
The film instead relies on gimmicky mechanics to convey tension and dread where the stolid acting falls short. There are dozens of shots where the camera slowly zooms down long corridors or empty rooms, accompanied by screechy, dissonant sound effects as if trying to convince you that the dreary banality of what's unfolding on screen is actually threatening and you should be very afraid.
The film is also full of pointlessly weird scenarios and obtuse dialogue that seem to be there solely for the purpose of making the viewer squirm uncomfortably. There are many bizarre references to menstruation and armpit hair, a pointless sex scene involving a nude Nicole Kidman pretending to be anesthetized so her pervert husband can get it up, and one particularly risible scene where Colin Farrell confesses to his young son that when he was a small boy, he happened upon his sleeping father and masturbated him until "The bed sheets were covered in sperm".
The nonsense continues at a creeping pace until the under-whelming, implausible climax, which feels a poor reward for enduring what was essentially a 30 minute short film stretched into two hours. I don't think any amount of retrospective research on "Iphigenia in Aulis" will change my rating. One of the worst films of 2017.
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