Features and Columns · Movies

The Artificial Heart of ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’

From stifling sets to cold dialogue, here’s how artificiality informs the work of Yorgos Lanthimos, especially ‘A Killing of a Sacred Deer.’
The Killing Of A Sacred Deer Bk
By  · Published on July 20th, 2022

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explores how artificiality is at the heart of the films of Yorgos Lanthimos, especially ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer.’


If you’ve seen a film by Yorgos Lanthimos you’ve now doubt noticed that his films give off a squirm-inducing strangeness. The Athens-born director’s work — which includes DogtoothThe Lobster, and The Favorite — radiates with palpable, and purposeful, awkwardness. And that’s part of the appeal. The discomfort that permeates Lanthimos’ filmography is both a tonal calling card and the backbone of his overriding thematic interest with artificiality.

And pinpointing the joints, musculature, and sinew of what makes his films feel so intentionally stilted is a key “in” to appreciating the director’s work. A prominent member of the “Greek Weird Wave,” Lanthimos’ alienated characters and absurdly candid dialogue are a vector for explaining difficult ideas to audiences.

And as the video essay below argues, to understand why artificiality is at the heart of every aspect of Lanthimos’ work you need look no further than The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Adapting one of the more harrowing plot points of Homer’s Illiad, in which King Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia, to appease the gods and secure the winds he needs to sail to Troy. In Lanthimos’ tale, an alcoholic heart surgeon named Steven (Colin Farrell) finds himself at the mercy of a young man named Martin (Barry Keoghan), whose father perished under Steven’s knife. Martin announces that Steven must kill one of his two children to pay for what he’s done.

It’s a surreal story that inserts the retributive nightmare logic of myth into the sterile environments of surgical wards and the suburbs. And while our protagonist clings to the tight control he has imposed on his domestic life, everything about The Killing of a Sacred Deer screams at us that there is something sinister and dehumanizing about attempting to visit order on chaos (there’s no other word for how Martin eats spaghetti in this film, if you know you know).

Unpacking various elements of the film from Lanthimos’ frequent use of slow zooms, deserted sets, and isolating shot composition, check out the video below for a look at how Lanthimos’ harnesses awkwardness to terrify us.

Watch “The Synthetic Terror of Yorgos Lanthimos”:


Who made this?

This video essay on how artificiality is central to the horror of The Killing of a Sacred Deer is by Spikima Movies, a Korean-Canadian who’s been dropping gems on YouTube since 2019. You can subscribe to Spikima’s channel for more incredible essays here. And you can follow them on Letterboxd here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).