Disturbing, meandering, and perfectly perverse, Dogtooth is a startlingly original black comedy import from Greece; a creepy art movie that holds a cracked mirror to our most cherished convictions about family; and a brightly lit nightmare of patriarchy run amok. A dark underbelly of a film, it depicts a savagely funny struggle between chaos and control.
Winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes in 2009, Dogtooth is one of the weirdest narratives I’ve seen in a long time. A husband and wife live with their three children in a large compound surrounded by a tall fence. The children, at least two of them pushing into adulthood, have been kept ignorant of the world on the other side of it. Learning a manipulated vocabulary in which “sea” is a chair and “carbine” is a bird, they are promised freedom when each has lost a “dogtooth,” proving they are prepared to venture outside and avoid corruption.
Accomplished and gripping, Dogtooth pushes the notion of parents screwing up their kids into seriously disturbing and darkly comic terrain. In it, terror and cold humour commingle. Writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos tells his story with a clinical command of visuals and performances, skillfully doling out tantalizing pieces of information, keeping the viewer in a constant state of suspense and wonder. One conjectures what bizarre event might occur next. Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou approach scenario construction like misanthropic social scientists planning an experiment.
Equally harrowing and risible, Dogtooth is warped beyond belief, and attains a nauseating sense of self-destruction. As disquieting as a dip into the universe of Lars von Trier (Dogville), it combines the cheeky cruelty of Michael Haneke (Caché) with the cosmic absurdity of David Lynch (Inland Empire). Yet the journey to a family’s heart of darkness is unwaveringly detailed, thought-provoking fare. In fact, it’s an exhilaratingly unpredictable experience, an unforgiving and darkly brilliant study of humans destroying other humans in order to obtain and conserve power.
When it turns unbearably sour by the time of its concluding shot, the implications become more alarming as it lingers, and endurance becomes virtually impossible. It’s a litmus test for how much you can handle and whether you want to be assaulted by a sea of nothingness that will shut you up in stunned silence and then stay with you for days. Nevertheless, its meanness, while dreadfully uncomfortable, is pointed, sharp, and insightful.
Dogtooth is like a grisly car crash from which you cannot look away. It plays as a satisfying, comic mystery in spite of its horror-sourced housebreak plot, and exudes a strange fascination throughout. Admittedly, it’s pretty difficult to laugh at the rancidity on display, but it is not shocking or miserable for the sake of it: it’s a satire, albeit a nasty one, through and through. It’s also a mini-marvel that sneaks up on you before biting you to the bone, leaving marks that may turn into scars over time.