Boozie Movies At Danger After Dark! DOGTOOTH Review!
[Back in January regular ScreenAnarchy reader indiemaker drank a great deal of alcohol, watched Isaac Florentine's Ninja and sent us a wildly entertaining review as a result. He pledges to maintain this tradition throughout Philadelphia's Danger After Dark Festival.]First impression thirty minutes into Dogtooth: "This is not a good film to come to drunk."
Hopefully, now that I've moved on from the Makers Mark pre-gaming to some exquisitely tasty espresso flavored Vodka as I write this; I'll find a nice even balance to coherently review this film.
On second thought, fuck it... This film put me through one hell of a loop and I plan on doing the same to you, dear reader.
Danger After Dark programmer, Travis Crawford, briefly introduced Dogtooth with a warning, "The less you know about this film, the better. It's best enjoyed if you know nothing."
Sitting next to a pair of giggling and unexpecting hipsters discussing their excitement for seeing some "fucked up foreign shit," I thought to myself, "Damn. I've been reading reviews and following news on this for well over a year and I pretty much know all of the major plot points. I guess I'm shit out luck on this one."
Still, the reviews I've read were largely misleading.
Leaving the theater, it was immediately apparent that the film had split the audience down the middle. My male neighbors in women's jeans were not pleased. They got some "fucked up foreign shit," alright but it wasn't exactly what they bargained for. A few others were outraged even. My feelings are, "If you know nothing about the film, you will either love it or loath it with little room for anywhere in between."
But if you've been reading all of the reviews that I have and feel prepared, then you probably end up somewhere in the middle. Dogtooth is one of the most brilliant, engaging, frustrating, and infuriating film experiences I've had in a long time and I think it might even be best to go in having EVERYTHING SPOILED for you. So, be warned.
Dogtooth is a blackest of black comedies, but don't expect to be laughing that much. Apart from a few select scenes, the few audience members who let out obnoxiously loud and forced guffaws throughout came across as assholes.
Dogtooth can be best described as the mutant bastard child of Flowers in the Attic, The Virgin Suicides, and Visitor Q by way of Aki Kaurismaki. It's ridiculous, it's beautiful, it's brutal, and completely deadpan. The film takes a one note joke, tells it seriously, and then stretches it out for a full two hours. The problem is that it completely forgoes the punch line.
Director Giorgos Lanthimos tells a deceptively simple tale of a nameless family under the tyrannical rule of father who's sheltered his children from the outside world for their entire lives. No telephone, no television outside of home movies, no radio, and no formal education. The father and his wife have even developed an intricate mythology/alternate history that they teach. The children believe that their grandfather is Frank Sinatra and that airplanes are toys that fall out of the sky. They've been told that they have a brother who lives on the other side of the fence that surrounds their home. They're taught alternate definitions of basic words. "Pussy is a lamp" is sure to become a popular quote and my personal favourite.
The film is a minimalistic slow burn with little to no expositional dialogue. While the film is not without some stylistic flourishes, film is very dogmatic with its fly on a wall approach. Lanthimos rarely provides any type of set up for his scenes. Instead, he throws the viewer into baffling scenarios with no information or context. We see the children talking to themselves by the fence and throwing food over it before we hear anything about the imaginary brother three quarters into the running time. The lack of any information may work on a purely surrealist level for some. My neighbours and many others were simply confused and asked questions aloud the entire screening.
While there is an obvious underlying humour to the entire film, Lanthimos' direction and attention to detail cuts down the laugh factor because, frankly, it feels real and believable, thus making it all the more absurd and disturbing... Do I sound drunk or what? All of the mannerisms and behaviour of the children is befitting for characters that know nothing of the outside world and society. They are polite, courteous, yet cringe inducingly awkward in every line and action. I sympathized with the children. We know there is no happy ending in store for them, not even a slimmer of hope. The acting is stellar across the board though. I have to hand it to the cast, these are brave performances.
The explicit and much touted incestual sex and sudden, graphic bursts of violence is not what makes the film so challenging though. The frustration lies in the fact that the film builds up to a dénouement that never happens. Ultimately, I don't know what the film is actually about. I didn't get the point, and I suspect that there is none.
We never learn why the father has decided to ostracize his children from society. He says things that makes it seems as though he's trying to protect them, shield them from bad influences. But what are those bad influences? There's no mention of religion of any kind. The father routinely pays an employee from his factory to sleep with his son to quell his sexual urges. So he's not a complete puritan. He utilizes brutal, extreme violence as a means of discipline and encourages fierce, sometimes dangerous competition amongst the siblings.
Early on in the film, there's a scene involving the father and a dog training academy. He's enrolled the new family pet into a rigorous and intensive training program and is impatient with the results. The trainer responds that, "there are five stages to training a dog. Your dog is at stage 2, now we decide what type of dog you want. Do you want a friendly and obedient pet or a loyal and lethal guard for your home?"
I took this as a clue to unlocking the film's message. I expected a payoff with the dog as it seemed an obvious analogy for the father's treatment of his children. He literally trains his kids at one point to get on all fours and bark when they see a cat, "the most dangerous creature of all."
It no longer seemed that the father was sheltering his children out of love and fear but for much darker reasons. He's conditioning his kids for another purpose entirely. But what purpose? We never learn. I don't expect nor want easy answers, I enjoy challenging films, but I left theatre feeling like I'd been fucked with, that a big joke had been played on me not unlike a Coen Brothers' picture.
In the end, Dogtooth came across more as a Brechtian exercise then a satire. It plays out like a satire, but I'm just not sure what it's satirizing. Maybe it's pure misanthropy. I suspect Lanthimos has issues with his parents. The only clear message that I could gather is that the concept of the nuclear family is completely fucked. Or maybe it's just that homeschooled kids are fucked. We are the products of cognitive, associative experience, therefore, our personalities, good and bad, have been shaped and melded by our parents.
The film brought back memories of an ex-girlfriend whom was homeschooled in a rural, recluse area and I certainly saw a lot of her in the characters. Our relationship ended not so long after she shared her experiences to which I responded in all of my infinite wisdom, "That's ok. Every home school kid is kinda fucked up."
Yet, Dogtooth is specifically and methodically plotted and constructed to create expectations and then purposefully denies them. This should be known going in. A four beer, three whiskey shot high aside, I was engrossed and searched for clues to piece together, but nothing fit. I anticipate further viewings, and I also anticipate further frustration.
Dogtooth is an original and beguiling film that's worthy of the praise its received but temper your expectations because this is one black comedy where the joke may just be on you.
Review courtesy of indiemaker and his magical liquids.
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