The Κilling of a Sacred Deer is the fifth full-length film of Yorgos Lanthimos (after The Lobster) and was released in in 2017. It received the Best Screenplay Award at the 70th Cannes Film Festival for its creative writing. The cinematography was conducted by Thimios Bakatakis, with whom the director maintains a long-lasting collaboration. The constant use of wide-angle lenses is the key feature of storytelling.
Steven (Colin Farrell), a prominent heart surgeon, is married to a successful ophthalmologist, Anna (Nicole Kidman). They have two children. Feeling sorry for the 16-year-old Martin (Barry Keoghan), fatherless, Steven begins to develop a friendly relationship with him, which evolves in an awkward and strange way. When the young man comes close to the doctor’s family, he makes his intentions clear and sets Steven a tragic dilemma. The title of the film as well as the script have references to the ancient Greek tragedy Iphigenia in Aulis.
What is very interesting in the Lanthimos’s cinematic universe is that even when influenced by other directors or making references to myths-stories, he uses them in his own unique way. A typical example is the use of ultra-wide-angle lenses (Panavision Ultra Speed & Zeiss Master Prime with focal lengths of 10mm, 12mm and 17mm) combined with a very slow zoom. Although at first glance the use of them, especially in the scenes of corridors, resembles Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic narratives, we will soon realize that Lanthimos has created a distinct, invisible entity that observes people. For the first time, in the director’s filmography, the camera moves more and is much higher or lower than the height of the people. Initially, this creates an unexplained concern to the viewer.
“People occupy a small fraction of the frame being sometimes tiny, but also alone in a vast world.”
In several films, the directors use these focal lengths for a variety of reasons (i.e. the recent Florida Project), but in this case they are the key feature of storytelling and escalating suspense.
The spotless setting
The ultra-wide-angle lenses help the director to present us all at once a big part of the state-of-the-art and well-equipped hospital, demonstrating its prestige. Besides, this location was deliberately chosen to avoid creating any doubt to the viewer about the ability of the doctors / equipment to cure the children. In addition, the family’s house, which is organized and clean, creates the same feeling as a clinic. This tactic, combined with the medical unanswered questions and incomprehensible events, strengthens the sci-fi element of the film in a non-obvious and powerful way.
The human scale
As the plot evolves and we realize that the wide-angle shooting, which even leads to the appearance of vignetting, is the core of the filming, the scale with which the actors are presented becomes clear. People occupy a small fraction of the frame being sometimes tiny, but also alone in a vast world. The former deification of the surgeon’s profession (Steven) now seems futile in sight of the weakness of the scientific community (including the father) to provide solutions.
P.S. : An interesting piece of information about the director is that we can find a renewed section dedicated to his photography projects in his personal website.