It’s hard to imagine a more brilliantly bizarre picture this year other than this Greek import Dogtooth. Here is a film that doesn’t deliberately, and figuratively, mutilate audiences’ eyeballs as Lars von Trier set out in Antichrist, nor mercilessly heightens violence as Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible – yet still remains profoundly shocking. Violence inDogtooth isn’t intended, but rather a disturbing effect of innocence, and simultaneously, ignorance. Which makes it all the more disturbing, as the three twentysomething children living under the tyrannical rule of their bourgeois parents are misled, misinformed and totally detached from the outside world, the social ‘norms’, and hence, reality. In their own isolated, fence-ringed world, they are told that a zombie is a flower, a pussy is a lamp, a cat is a savage beast, and Frank Sinatra is their Uncle. And any sign of misbehaviour would mean homegrown capital punishment such as holding Listerine in the mouth until it burns.
If all of these sound absurd, director Giorgos Lantimos roots absurdity in context to this social conditioning. Although laced with some Lynchian weirdness, he doesn’t plunge the film in total darkness; Dogtooth‘s cinematography looks like its shot by Sofia Coppola, all sun-dappled environs, idyllic mood shots, quietly understated framing. But despite of this, there’s an air of eerie dread and claustrophobia, its entire running-time an unpredictable carnival of derangement. Lanthimos refuses to offer explanations to the motivations of the parents, especially the haywire, control-freak father, and the passive-aggressive mother, which makes the entire harrowing affair more unsettling. His approach is rather observational, as though he’s letting us take a peek into this madcap culture, an extreme case of parental fascism. Dogtooth, for all its horrors, takes a Buñuelian dissection of middle-class isolationism and a fearless glimpse into the face of one of humanity’s bleakest moral cruelties – social control.
Unsettling, provocative and tragic. Dogtooth may be one of this year’s most bizarre yet genuinely haunting films, exploring parental fascism with devastating results. As soon as this bites, it leaves a lasting mark.