When he’s not performing open heart surgery, Dr. Steven Murphy will engage in a discussion on the features of a wristwatch. He has very proper and structured conversations with his family and is equally involved in every part of his children’s lives. The Murphy’s lives are governed by a sort of tense omnipresence, exemplified through the sinister eye of the film’s director, Yorgos Lanthimos.
The film opens with a shot of a heart beating during surgery, with a slow pan outwards from it. The initial scene showcases the movie’s execution of tension building through it’s searing and caustic score choices. After the surgery, Dr. Murphy (Colin Farrell) removes his gloves and scrubs his hands, a familiar routine for someone as seasoned as he post-surgery. Steven and his anesthetist go on about their day, contemplating what they look for in a wristwatch. Just from the brief conversation we are shown how intelligent and refined an individual Steven Murphy is or at least presents himself.
Steven then meets with Martin (Barry Keoghan) in a diner for lunch. Martin arrives a little later than Steven and seems as though he is a very polite and thoughtful kid. Steven and Martin comment briefly on Martin’s haircut and find they both share the trait of saving french fries for last in their meals. The nature of their relationship is not explained until later in the film leaving us to ponder their connection. Especially following the meal when Steven gifts Martin a watch and the two share a hug. This is only after Martin receives Steven’s permission, showing at least some distance between them.
At home, Steven and Anna (Nicole Kidman) keep close eyes on their children, Bob (Sunny Suljic) and Kim (Raffey Cassidy). They sit down to dinner together and each one very formally recounts their days and what plans they’ve recently made. There is a coldness amongst the family as if they have been forced to coexist. The vacancy is especially prevalent between Steven and Anna, the latter almost servile to her husband. Their idea of sexual intimacy is Anna lain out on the bed with her head hung just slightly over the edge, sort of offering herself to Steven.
On one of their meetings, Steven invites Martin to join his family for dinner. Martin eagerly accepts and extends his brand of awkward affability to Anna upon his arrival. He reveals to the family his admiration for their home and neighborhood, offering that his living situation is not quite on par with theirs. Around the Murphy children, though Martin is a different person, he is cool and coy and smokes cigarettes. Anna finds Martin endearing and Kim is taken with the flippant personality he has shown her. The warm feelings from the family with the exception of Kim quickly turn to contempt though when Martin fells upon them a curse leaving Steven with a dire ultimatum. Which member of his family will he choose to part with?
Yorgos Lanthimos is no stranger to getting underneath his audience’s skin and rendering you unable to look away from his vision. His 2009 film “Dogtooth” is an equally unsettling study of the ultimate dysfunctional family. He has an immediacy to his shots and pacing that will churn a guttural frenetic discomfort as you follow the story. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” will stay with you long after its silencing conclusion.