The three children, two daughters and a son (all of them grown up), have never been allowed to leave the high fence that surrounds their plush, sterile home. Their parents have seen to it that every trace of evidence of the outside world has been censored. The father is the only one who leaves, every so often bringing with him a woman named Christina to satisfy his son's natural urges, even though he seems bored to death by the ritual. Dad has also trained his kids and wife to bark on all fours like dogs. Somebody enroll this guy in Parenting 101. But wait! Change cometh! Getting no gratification from performing her sexual duty with the son, Christina branches out to the two daughters for some small pleasures. This seems to light a fire under the ass of the eldest daughter, who becomes less subordinate than her parents should like. You can kinda think of this household as an unfunny version of the Addams Family: Deranged, insular, cut off, but nowhere as entertaining and a lot less loving.
So, what is Lanthimos trying to say? Is sex supposed to be liberating? Maybe for some, but others (like the son) may consider it a form of imprisonment? Is the film supposed to be a surreal exploration of human animalism (taken of course to the most literal of contexts)? Is it about the mentally crippling effects of a world view so limited that it practically equates to blindness, as the recurring motif of blindfolding seems to suggest? An ambitious film maker may pose all these questions within a single film, but a great film maker will propose answers by the films end, and that is something Lanthimos does not deliver. I'll credit him with audacity (not unlike what we've seen from David Lynch), but not with insight. A lot of that audacity seemed to go into failed attempts at dark comedy. Perhaps the thought a person being bludgeoned with a VCR or a cat ending up on the wrong end of a pair of garden shears seemed funny to him on paper, but they sure didn't have me laughing (yes, they both actually occur in the film).
If nothing else, Dogtooth is at the very least a hard film to forget (for better or worse). Lanthimos' style is simple, intimate, gives proper focus to his actors, and features some really sumptuous cinematography.
I caught up with it recently upon learning that it was Greece's official submission for this year's Foreign Language Film Oscar, but having now seen it, I simply can't imagine that branch voting for it. Not even the executive committee. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it's just too weird. “No Oscar for you!”
**1/2 out of ****