THE STORY – A controlling, manipulative father (Christos Stergioglou) locks his three adult offspring in a state of perpetual childhood by keeping them prisoner within the sprawling family compound. The children are bored to tears in spite of distractions like Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou), an employee of their father’s who makes regular visits to sexually service the son (Hristos Passalis). Increasingly curious about the outside world, the older daughter (Aggeliki Papoulia) hatches a plan to escape.
THE CAST – Christos Stergioglou, Michelle Valley, Angeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni & Christos Passalis
THE TEAM – Yorgos Lanthimos (Director/Writer) & Efthymis Filippou (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 97 Minutes
By Josh Williams
Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Dogtooth” is an unnerving glimpse into what it would be like if you were homeschooled your entire life. Utilizing Lanthimos’ unconventional but brilliant visual style, the film works on a visceral level. Offering up one of the more confound and unsettling coming of age stories of the 21st century, “Dogtooth” is a brilliant showcase of the Greek director’s talents.
“Dogtooth” revolves itself around a nameless family. The family consists of a father, a mother, two sisters, and a brother. The family’s home lives behind this giant wooden fence with only a gate leading out to the outside world. The only person who is ever allowed to leave said home is the father. The father works at some sort of factory, which is assumingly how the family makes money and stays alive.
But something much darker is happening at the home. The children, the son in his twenties and the daughters in their late teens, have been brainwashed to believe that the world they live in is far different than reality. They use words like telephone for the salt shaker, they are made to believe that cats are the most vicious creatures on the planet and that airplanes are actually tiny. At first, the film seems to utilize this sense of fantasy to its advantage. The children play odd made up games and they clearly seem to enjoy the life that has been thrust upon them.
Yet like in most Lanthimos films, as the story progresses, a more sinister underbelly is revealed. The mother and children of the family are clearly prisoners to the universe this father has wanted to create. Now whether they know that they are prisoners is an entirely different story. The father expresses that only the children will be allowed to leave once their dogtooth falls out, hence the title of the film.
“Dogtooth” is a story that fits perfectly into the puzzle that is Lanthimos’ career. He has had some puzzling films both before (“Kinetta”) and after (“The Lobster“) this one but this one seems to function on a different level. There are three things that Lanthimos puts above almost everything else in his filmmaking process that makes his work stand out above the competition and that is his cinematography, his idiosyncratic writing and the performances he gets from his actors. In his later films he clearly has focused in on the elements that make him great so it is exciting to see him utilize these talents much earlier in his career.
The worlds that Lanthimos creates are usually bizarre and reveal a lot about the human condition. The set up is usually quite uncomfortable and throughout the entire film there are scenes where random events occur that at base level make you think, “Huh, maybe he is just doing this in an effort to weird me out.” But actually, it is fitting into his overall grand scheme of the surreal and mysterious realism. The first aspect which helps this pass into our minds smoothly instead of so abruptly are the performances.
Lanthimos always gets incredible performances from any actor he works with. They can flow across his poetic and metaphorical dialogue with ease and further help immerse us into his universe. But the hair raising factor of what Lanthimos’ actors are willing to do is submit to the illusiveness. His films are always interesting, to say the least, but they come off almost as illusions as if what we’re seeing isn’t actually real. The actors help sell this concept much further. Bringing a human element to an otherwise foreign realm, the performances ground us in a reality that isn’t really there. We think we are witnessing normal everyday life for these people but then it clicks in our brain that these events are horrible and what is happening is completely irrational. But the actors, their characters, and their nuanced performances act as a bridge from the unknown world of Lanthimos, to our own.
Now if the performances were meant to ground us in this reality, the cinematography is meant to rip us from it. Lanthimos has utilized this technique throughout his career but it comes off as much more unsettling in “Dogtooth.” From his shallow depth of field to his unconventional framing, the visuals act as an ally to this unknown realm. The framing of certain shots are perplexing not because he is breaking all the rules but we also don’t get to witness events in their entirety. Characters will perform actions either out of focus or out of the frame entirely. Characters shoulders and head will be out of frame as they speak or when an important action or discussion is happening we’ll only be looking at the back of the characters head or their hands. Sometimes we won’t even be on a character as they speak, but the camera will jump around to different locations within the room. This unnerving visual style is what gives us a clue that something is wrong. From the moment the film begins we are lead to believe that this family is as happy as can be. But through this unnerving visual approach, we receive the information visually that this family is not happy and this situation they are in is soul-shaking.
“Dogtooth” is a fantastic drama-thriller piece that fits perfectly into Lanthimos’ intriguing career. With powerful performances that help sell us on this idea of a crazed universe. To the unconventional visual approach that is meant to guide our hand into the metaphorical aspects of the film, “Dogtooth” could be considered Lanthimos’ best film. It is certainly his most focused but if one thing is for sure, it is that Yorgos Lanthimos knows how to make an audience uncomfortable.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Brilliant performances, unorthodox cinematography and bizarre yet intriguing writing help to enhance the otherwise disturbing universe Yorgo Lanthimos has created.
THE BAD – The film is overly indulgent at points leading to some moments that feel unnecessary.