Call it accidental counter-programming: in the past month, I have seen no less than three films so deterministically grim in tyrannizing its protagonists that I’m beginning to wonder why I don’t just putter back to the multiplex for the mindless shlock that everybody else tends to enjoy when it gets as hellaciously hot as it’s been lately. Seriously, is the air conditioning on? Winter’s Bone truly was the stuff that gothic Ozark nightmares are made of, and despite being multiplex fare itself, Toy Story 3 featured a climax so hair-raising that I can only imagine the legions of shit-stained toddlers that had to be taken home prior to film’s end. However, the adventurous filmgoers who seek out Dogtooth, a small Greek picture made by a virtually unknown filmmaker, will be treated to something even more unsparingly warped than anything else released into theaters this year.
Taking both the “overprotective parents” and “dysfunctional family” style movie to a new extreme, Dogtooth portrays the ritualistically bizarre behavior of three adult children who have been brainwashed and enslaved by their father since birth. Believing that toy airplanes are real people-moving transports and that a “motorway” is a “very strong wind,” the children live in a completely constructed reality that bears no relation to the outside world, a world that is forever closed off to them by a large fence that surrounds their bright, innocuous-looking home.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos opts not to focus on the triumphing human spirit of its oppressed characters, but rather maniacally relishes in showing the various games and activities invented by the father in order to maintain control, each of which is more demented than the one before it. In these scenes, which comprise most of the film, Lanthimos is not afraid to shift sensory gears in the blink of an eye. As a result, the film frequently vacillates between hilarity and horror without narrative foreshadowing nor visual affect. The result is a film that is grueling, exhausting, and frequently unpleasant. But it’s also undeniably singular.
What Dogtooth is actually about, however, could generate a vast number of reactions and interpretations. Is it a tale of nature vs. nurture, hormones conquering reason at all costs? An indictment of closed-off suburban existence? Another anti-totalitarian tract? A political allegory for Greece’s role in the European Union?? I’m not entirely sure, and I definitely don’t have the courage to sit through it again to find out. Regardless, Dogtooth is an indelible cinematic experience, and compared to the rest of this year’s summer crop, it’s a satisfyingly prickly pear in an orchard of rotten apples.