This fascinating movie review was written by Caleb Ackley:

While I don’t typically correlate film-induced anxiety with a shopping mall on a banal Wednesday afternoon in Southern California, Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest offering succeeded in my conflation of the two.

Upon entering the theatre and settling in, I, alongside the scant audience of polite 60-something’s, am greeted with an unnerving close-up of a naked, beating heart. Slowly, the camera pans out, Schubert playing mournfully in the background, the cold glare of the fluorescent lights now showing not only beating heart but the brushed grey metal of a surgeon’s slab. Cut to black. Fantastic. Two minutes in and I’m already squirming uncomfortably in my seat.

Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell give characteristically mesmerizing performances as Stephen and Anna Murphy, a couple around who’s family this unsettling tale unfolds. Their existence is marked by sure signs of success; their careers are flourishing, their children, Bob and Kim, are respectful, and their home is at once comfortable and elegant. And yet for all its outward perfection, their lives seem oddly devoid of substance. Conversations go from A to B with surgical precision and while their words are followed up with the appropriate action, their eyes stare straight ahead and their voices drone on without inflection. Stephen and Anna, when they are intimate with one another, relate to each other like a mortician would with his cadaver.

Ripples in the eerily calm surface of their existence begin to appear with the introduction of Martin, a young man bereft of his father, played with chilling calculation by Barry Keoghan. Initially a benign, albeit awkward, presence, Martin is taken under Stephen’s wing. The two grow closer and soon, once Martin has inserted himself into the family, his intentions are made clear. Martin’s father, it is revealed, had died while on Stephen’s operating table after the surgeon himself had had possibly too much to drink; and while Stephen continues to try and absolve himself of guilt (ie become a father figure to Martin and strives for sobriety), Martin refuses to allow the past to remain as such. Demanding justice, Martin informs Stephen that each of member of his family will begin to exhibit symptoms: paralysis of the legs, lack of appetite, and bleeding from the eyes, until eventually, one by one, they all die. The only way to reverse this slow (and disturbingly literal) crawl towards demise, Martin says, is to execute one member of the family, thus in essence balancing the scales of justice, and leaving the others free to live.

When neither doctors nor violent attempts at coercion succeed, Stephen and Anna, in their characteristically mute way, prepare themselves for the inevitable.  The three doomed family members are seated in the living room. Stephen, rifle in hand, stands in the center of the three. The family’s wrists are duct-taped and their faces are hidden beneath bags.  Stephen, covering his own face, begins to spin in haphazard circles with rifle raised. Twice he stops spinning and fires, missing both times. On the third attempt, however, he succeeds. His son, Bob, with a bullet hole in his chest, sits limply on the couch.

The final scene of the film has the family, now reduced to three members, sitting in the same restaurant that Stephen had often bought lunch with Martin in the past. As the family sits, Martin enters and takes a seat within watching distance. Stephen, Anna, and Kim rise from their table and leave quietly. Silence reigned as the credits rolled and I, alongside my fellow audience members, trailed slowly out of the dark theatre.

This agonizing tale of justice and revenge finds its roots in ancient Greek mythology. Lanthimos took cues from both Aeschylus and Euripides’ treatment of the tragedy Iphegenia and fused those elements with his own gorgeously macabre style of direction. The stories of Aeschylus and Euripides, within their respective retellings, contain a host of themes-many of which are touched on, if lightly, in The Killing Of A Sacred Deer. While there is much to both talk and think about regarding these themes I will, for the sake of brevity and our collective emotional health, focus on the title of the film itself.

In the original telling, King Agamemnon mistakenly kills a deer that is sacred to the goddess Artemis. Her demand, in response, is to require Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his daughter, Ipheginia. This god’s wrath is only satiated by the bloodshed of those below her. Atonement, much to Stephen’s chagrin, turns out to be much more than simply good deeds and a heavy-handed sweep beneath the carpet. As weary and bone-chilled as this film left myself, and I suspect, at least a few others, the questions it poses of true justice, shame’s ugliness, and the guilt imposed by one’s own conscience, ring clear. Martin’s demand of blood for blood, while in today’s ‘properly’ ordered culture may seem psychotic and absurd, has been a consistent theme down through the ages. Justice cries out, demanding to be heard.

The Murphy family, prior to their ill-fated interaction with Martin, had been living in a world where this type of old-world demand for justice simply did not, does not, exist. They had crafted their lives carefully, unwittingly hedging out the reality that the ugly truths of life and pain demand, only allowing in that which kept them ‘safe.’ Yet even for all their building of walls and all their care in creating this world for themselves, the truth of their existence, in the form of this lonely young man, was eventually imposed on them. Their reality, it turns out, was far less safe than they could have anticipated and the cost for their actions much more dire.

This balancing of the scales of justice is a subject fraught with controversy. While living in a purportedly ‘just’ system of courts and prisons, the problems of racial discrimination, backlogs of so-called crimes that number in the thousands, not to mention inmate abuse, remain rampant. This film, as horrific as it is, brings to light an ugly truth, namely that we ourselves, in whatever way we are guilty may be unable to bear the ultimate cost of our crimes. The weight of our indiscretion is too heavy, the cost of our complacency is too great. So while some things can and most certainly should be mended and atoned for in the present, the question of our ability to ultimately balance our own moral scales continues to haunt us. The shoulders that can bear the burden could not be mine, indeed they must not be mine. Where then, do we turn for justice and by whom is that court run? I hope that mercy is extended for myself, though I do not deserve it. I, like Stephen, have tried, with breaking back and shortness of breath, to atone. And yet I fall. Large questions, to be sure, and questions, quite frankly, I don’t know if I will ever get to the bottom of. And yet here we are; good by some standards, evil by others, and, more often than not, at least in my case, unseasy as to how I would be weighed if such a scale were forced upon me.

It is here, though, at our most self-aware and humbled, that the Gospel brings us the most relief. The debt accrued in our minds and hearts, the eternal cost for our actions, has been expunged; taken onto the shoulders of He who is not only more strong, but infinitely more merciful, than we are.