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Director

Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring

  • Christos Stergioglou as Father
  • Michelle Valley as Mother
  • Angeliki Papoulia as Eldest Daughter
  • Christos Passalis as Son
  • Mary Tsoni as Youngest Daughter
  • Anna Kalaitzidou as Christina

Dogtooth marks my first introduction to the work of Yorgos Lanthimos and man is it one hell of an intro to this idiosyncratic film maker. Here he creates an unnerving and provocative portrait of parenting gone off the deep end and the weirdness of it all. You won’t be sitting in a comfortable position or thinking of pleasant things once Dogtooth has finished.

In a house in the Greek countryside that is sealed off like an army compound, a Father and Mother raise their three children, a boy and two girls who are never named. Yet the children( who are clearly nearing their 20’s) are treated like they are much younger and we are soon witness to their strange existence. Father and Mother have kept them inside the house their entire lives, with none of the children venturing outside into the big, wide world. They are taught the incorrect definitions of words. They believe they have a brother who lives on the other side of the high garden wall. They believe that cats are fierce man-eating beasts that lie in wait if they should exit their home. They are awarded stickers for good behaviour and violently berated if they don’t fall in line with the rules set up. They are told that they are only permitted to leave when a canine tooth falls out. To say it’s an extreme situation that the kids except as just normality is putting it mildly. The Father works at a factory and is the only one to ever leave the fortress he has made. The only contact with the outside world comes in the form of security worker Christina, who works in the same place as the Father. He enlists her to satisfy the raging hormones and sexual needs of the Son, but this introduction brings with it consequences. Once the other daughters meet her, the Eldest Daughter barters with Christina for first a headband and then video tapes in return for favours. These end up setting off a chain of events that threaten to tear apart the mendacious world the Father and Mother have created for their offspring.

Yorgos Lanthimos as director has this innate ability to make things seem surreal but with some semblance of reality, albeit one that has gone awry. It’s a strange but arresting gift to posses and Lanthimos sucks you in with how he presents such an unusual situation to the audience. It’s the type of place that looks at first idyllic, depending on your viewpoint, before smatterings of violence and graphic scenes appear unexpectedly. It might not be classified as a horror movie, but Dogtooth certainly has its fair share of shocks and squirms. And while Dogtooth is largely disquieting, there are slithers of jet black humour to be found here which is surprising to say the least. But that also gives Dogtooth another edge as you never know just how off kilter things will go. I mean how are you supposed to react when the Son finds flowers in the garden and exclaims “Mum, I’ve found two little zombies?”. I was between shock and giggles by this moment. As written by Lanthimos and fellow screenwriter Efthymis Filippou , Dogtooth is unusual in the extreme yet for all its weirdness, retains the attention with the eerie and often downright cryptic way the dialogue is presented. Even the most absurd moment is delivered with a deadpan seriousness that I wasn’t expecting in the least, but further fans the flames of an already head-scratching experience. Some will scoff at the story and say that there isn’t actually a lot of action, but that is to miss that Dogtooth is aiming to show us just how ordinary this strange world that the parents have made seems to their children. They have no knowledge of outside the house and the compound like structure they call a home, so they have literally been fed manipulative and oppressive lies. The activities they partake in are kooky and absolutely mind-boggling(not to them), but we can’t help but watch how stunted and sheltered they are.

It all crafts something particularly disturbing and like a stone in your shoe, it’s hard to get to the bottom of and shake once there. Which is mainly the point I think; ambiguity holds sway in the world that Lanthimos has presented us with leaving it up to us to decipher our various questions. We may wonder why the Father and Mother have raised their children this way? This is the most burning question of all but one that we ourselves must figure out and put our own meaning on. Dogtooth has that kind of power to make you think and not be spoon fed every single answer or have it tied up with a big, finishing bow. And from a visual standpoint, it’s a massive highlight of Dogtooth. Lanthimos chooses to shoot a lot of scenes with unusually, static wide angles that frequently cut people out of the frame with disorientating effect, further giving us cause to sit up and see where the film will journey to next. Cinematography as provided by Thimios Bakatakis has a harsh and brightly lit quality that bathes events in a sea of white, making the sudden bursts of violence just that little bit more shocking. It also serves as a bitter irony of how the world looks here and what is underneath and about to be thrown out of sync.

All the actors of the film are excellent at getting across the absolutely barmy and creepy nature of proceedings. Christos Stergioglou excels at showing stern and overbearing tendencies that are utterly horrifying from such a parental figure. He plays his role extremely well. The same goes for the rest of the cast who are exemplary, especially Angeliki Papoulia as the Eldest Daughter. She’s given the most to do and her reactions to the outside world creeping in are startling and revealing. What most helps is that they are clearly in tune with the direction of Lanthimos and his crazy, unpredictable vision of helicopter parenting.

A superb entry into the work of Yorgos Lanthimos, Dogtooth is not for all tastes but is horrifyingly compelling throughout. Believe me when I say, it’s got plenty of bite and shock to it and make no mistake about it.