The Murphys are a tightly knit family, living in a lovely, two-story home on a quiet street in the Cincinnati area.
Steven (Colin Farrell), a respected heart surgeon, is a handsome and quietly assured fellow sporting a thick beard with streaks of gray.
Anna (Nicole Kidman) an ophthalmologist of some renown, is brilliant and lovely, and more of a disciplinarian when it comes to their two children: teenager Kim (Raffey Cassidy), who loves to sing, and younger brother Bob (Sunny Suljic), who has a matter-of-fact way of avoiding chores and dodging a long-promised haircut.
The Murphys speak to one another in a deadpan manner that suggests they could be visitors from another planet, inhabiting human forms and trying to sound like Earthlings. There’s something creepy and unsettling about these people.
But in the world of Yorgos Lanthimos’ twisted and absurd and disturbing “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” nearly everyone sounds like the Murphys. Save for the rare outburst of almost animalistic rage, they’re all on the same robotic plane of communication. Even when someone says, “I love you,” it’s in a flat, emotionless monotone.
This film is one extended metaphor. (Not that I can claim to be sure what that metaphor was about at all times.) One can imagine some viewers pinned to their seats, impressed to the heavens by the uncompromising boldness of a filmed work that no doubt wouldn’t seem nearly as bizarre were it all taking place onstage.
One also can imagine some folks dashing for the exits, rolling their eyes at the pretentious nuttiness of it all.
The Greek writer-director Lanthimos (“Dogtooth,” “Lobster”) clearly has soaked up the great classical tragedies of his ancestors. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” has direct references to the story of Agamemnon — but there are not-so-subtle nods to the New Testament as well.
Farrell’s Steven has befriended Martin (Barry Keoghan), a teenage boy from the neighborhood. At first they meet in secret, with Steven gifting Martin with an expensive watch, and the two of them sharing walks and talks. It’s almost as if Steven is a hitman, and Martin is his star protégé. What are they up to?
Martin seems to worship Steven — but he also seems to have some sort of hold over him. We can feel Steven’s irritation at Martin’s increasingly intrusive behavior, but it feels as if Steven is powerless to put an end to it.
Eventually Martin is invited to Steven’s home for dinner, which leads to Steven’s daughter Kim quickly falling in love with Martin. (Kim claims Martin is hilarious and kind, despite all evidence to the contrary. The kid comes across as so disturbed, he’s unusually creepy even in this Stepford suburb.)
Steven finds it impossible to refuse an invitation to Martin’s house to have dinner with Martin and his widowed mother (Alicia Silverstone), who’s as bat-bleep crazy as everyone else in town.
A tragic mistake in Steven’s past comes back to haunt him and his family in ways that defy logic and science and medicine. Steven must make an unimaginable sacrifice — but if he doesn’t make that choice, it will result in an even more catastrophic fate for his family.
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” never hedges its bets, never takes its foot off the gas. The same can be said of the actors, from skilled veterans Farrell and Kidman to young Barry Keoghan, playing a psycho who might well have watched “Psycho” and identified with Norman Bates.
A24 presents a film directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and written by Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou. Rated R (for disturbing violent and sexual content, some graphic nudity and language). Running time: 116 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.