CINCINNATI -- As movies go, "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" is a strange concoction that has sharply divided audiences into love-it or hate-it camps.
The movie is eerie and macabre; characters often speak in flat tones that make them sound like they are reciting instructions from a how-to book. The film won both accolades and boos at the Cannes Film Festival in May and created a similar divide among early U.S. audiences.
Some viewers will be charmed and others repelled when the movie, which stars Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell, opens in theaters on Friday. But no matter what they think of the plot, viewers are sure to be impressed at the appearance of Cincinnati, where the film was shot in the summer of 2016.
The Queen City has never looked better.
"The Killing of a Sacred Deer" is directed by Greek arthouse darling Yorgos Lanthimos, who previously directed Farrell in the quirky "The Lobster." Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou won the best-screenplay award at Cannes for the story, which is inspired by a Greek myth in which Agamemnon offends the goddess Artemis and is ordered to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia.
The filmmakers did not come to Cincinnati to re-create old New York, as many others have done, but to create a palette of light and dark that mirrors the story about one family's descent from contentment to misery at the hands of a teenage boy called Martin (Barry Keoghan).
Kidman and Farrell play affluent doctors with two perfect children whose life of luxurious comfort is upended when their son Bob (Sunny Suljic) comes down with a mysterious ailment. As they frantically seek answers, the movie makes extensive use of Christ Hospital's sleek new Joint & Spine Center. (The film renamed it the "Brain and Spine Center.") Its wide corridors, neutral colors, spacious patient accommodations and serene waiting rooms are flooded with light from windows that afford expansive views of the city.
For much of its on-screen time, the hospital appears to be barely populated. The characters seem eerily alone in the open space. Its sound-muffling design also reinforces the movie's sense of isolation in the midst of luxury.
The spot where Covington's Madison Street runs up against the Ohio River and the west end of Riverside Drive is the location chosen to capture a dramatic view of the skyline early in the movie. Shot from the west side of the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge under blazing sunlight, downtown Cincinnati looks intensely bright -- a shining city full of promise that by the end of the film has turned dark and claustrophobic.
The same thing happens with the private home where the doctors' family lives. The woodsy location is in Cincinnati's tiny California neighborhood, on the Ohio River south of Lunken Airport. The house looks like a small mansion, with a winding staircase, plant-filled sun room and wood-paneled office. Yet by the end of the film, it has become a place of terror, cramped and foreboding, even outside its doors.
The elegance of the house stands in extreme contrast to the stilted and increasingly desperate action that unwinds inside its walls (including what must be the world's most un-sexy bedroom scene).
A very different house, of a style familiar to thousands of Cincinnatians, plays the role of the home of the teenager Martin and his mother (Alicia Silverstone, who shines in a painfully awkward scene). The two-story frame house is located near Wasson Road, said Kristen Schlotman, executive director of Film Cincinnati.
Northside's Blue Jay Restaurant, one of the friendliest spots in town, gets a minor makeover that radically changes its personality. For example, the cheery photos and awards that decorate the walls over its booths were removed, although the old wallpaper with monochromatic images from nature was left in place. The place locals know as a homey, welcoming refuge takes on a disquieting sense of despair.
One location that is allowed to look exactly like itself on film is the Hall of Mirrors at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza downtown. One of the city's most sumptuous spaces, the Art Deco hall is drenched in rich color and gleaming metal surfaces to reflect the warm lights.
The Hall of Mirrors also was used as a location in the still unreleased "Gotti," starring John Travolta as the notorious New York gangster. Bob Louis, director of sales and marketing for the Netherland, said that in "Gotti," the space stands in for the former Helmsley Hotel.