Dogtooth Review: A Bite To Remember

Dogtooth300DOGTOOTH (18): On General Release Friday 23rd April

If you’re sick of the cinematic mainstream, then you should check out Dogtooth, a film so off the beaten path that you might have to leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find your way back to civilization.

Three “children” have been raised by their parents in a suburban Greek home. Their ages are somewhere between late teens and early twenties but it’s hard to tell because their nameless parents treat them like they’re little more than seven.

They’ve never seen the outside world and have been conditioned by their parents (only ever referred to as Mother and Father) to adopt their own misinformed vocabulary so that “zombie” means “a small yellow flower”, “a carbine” is “a white bird” and a “keyboard” is a word for certain parts of the female anatomy.

Furthermore they’re told a recording of Frank Sinatra is their grandfather’s voice, planes flying overhead are toys which can later be found in the garden and cats are deadly predators to be avoided at all costs. They don’t even have names, referred to only as Younger Daughter, Older Daughter and Son.

As a result the children have a more than distorted view of the world, but their innate curiosity leads their parents to devise ways of keeping them in their imposed bubble.

The only chink in their armour is a security guard called Christina, hired by the father to service the sexual desires of his son. But when she trades a video from the outside world for oral sex with Older Daughter, the children’s protected universe starts to crumble.

It’s not just strangeness for strangeness’ sake. The bizarrely constructed world that the characters inhabit enable director Geogios Lanthimos to explore themes of parental control, the subjective semantics of language, identity and the very nature of family.

Whereas in many films an ordinary situation is subverted by something extraordinary happening, Dogtooth inverts this trope – an innately surreal world is turned upside down by the invasion of something very ordinary.

This is very much a film about tone. In Lanthimos’s sterile world very little actually happens; disturbances to their twisted utopia spread across the film like ripples across a pond. This has the effect of creating a suffocating and claustrophobic atmosphere where the slightest movement could have grave repercussions.

It walks a very fine line between dark comedy and the profoundly disturbing – a scene where Son has to choose which Daughter to have as a new sexual partner is a particular highlight, as is the sibling’s experimentations with violence and self-harm.

It’s certainly not a film that will appeal to those who only have mainstream sensibilities – it’s challenging, at times graphically gory and with sex scenes that will unnerve and leave you feeling decidedly uncomfortable.

As a result Dogtooth is not wholly successful. Because of its impassive pace it can at times be a drag on the patience and it often feels like a deliberately constructed exercise than a narratively watertight film. However, if nothing else it is original and thought provoking even if it isn’t exactly enjoyable.