Imagine a world where up is down, hot is cold, red is black, dandelions are zombies and that mysterious slit between a young girl’s legs is called a keyboard. Welcome to the bizarre world of Giorgos Lanthimos’ deep black comedy-cum-Greek tragedy oddity, Dogtooth.
The strange story of a father who keeps his three adult children locked away on their country estate, allowing them no knowledge of the outside world other than what he and their mother (almost a prisoner herself) let them know—most of which is a twisted version of reality. Never allowing the children (and though they all seem to be in their twenties, they are still very much children emotionally) to set foot outside of the family gate, the father tells them no one can venture outside the home except in the family car. Only he ever does. He drives his car ten feet past the gate to retrieve the son’s lost toy airplane. Down on all fours and barking at unseen terrors lying in wait just outside of the family compound, these are not your normal cinematic children. Though they live in what they perceive to be reality (and the only world they know) they could very well be living on another planet.
Essentially prisoners, these children are like experiments to the father (much like the dog training he is introduced to at one point in the story). Each day they learn new words that have no correlation with what they actually mean in the outside world. They are told that they can leave home only once their canine teeth fall out—a thing that of course we know does not happen without a bit of forceful persuasion. At one point, the father begins bringing home a young woman he works with (blindfolded, of course) to have her engage in sexual relations with the son—a thing that is done without emotion, without fanfare and without any seeming pleasure on either end—only to have her betray his confidence by beginning to have a sexual relationship with the youngest daughter in exchange for presents. Again, this is done without any semblance of emotion or passion; the daughter simply tells the girl if she licks her “there” (pointing to the obvious spot) she can have a gift.
Playing off Shyamalan’s The Village (though without the ridiculousness of that film) but done in a very matter-of-fact style typical of Greek cinema (or any Balkan cinema really) and especially of the nation’s cinematic icon Theo Angelopoulos, Lanthimos’ odd little movie reeks of possible exploitation, both in character and in style. But, instead, it comes off as almost experimentation—as much as the father’s experimentation (i.e., the dog-like training) upon his unknowing children. Yet, even with the passionless approach to characterization (including the most banal sex scenes ever filmed) we can feel the tremors begin beneath the surface, and we know that eventually there is going to be a deeply felt emotional explosion from at least one of these children. Of course this emotional A-Bomb does eventually come (culminating in that aforementioned forceful persuasion) and we are left with a haunting final image that may be the inevitable conclusion to a psychologically dangerous tale such as Lanthimos’ bizarre Dogtooth.
This review was originally published at The Cinematheque in a slightly different form.