Thursday, 23 September 2010

DVD review: Dogtooth (****)

An intense and downright disturbing examination of the dangers of excessive parental control and conditioning, this powerful and provocative film from Giorgos Lanthimos firmly positions him as the Greek Michael Hanke. 

A man (Christos Stergioglou) and his wife (Michelle Valley) keep their three unnamed children — the publicity material lists them as Son (Pasalis), Elder Daughter (Aggeliki Papoulia) and Younger Daughter (Mary Tsoni) — hidden away within the confines of their isolated family home which, despite the expansive, well-tended grounds and inviting swimming pool, is little more than a prison. The outside world is off limits and evil. Only Father, who appears to have a good job at a factory, ever leaves, and that’s by car — walking is expressly forbidden.

The three are raised by the parents, who educate them via cassette recordings, feeding them lies and misinformation. They’re encouraged to get on all fours and bark like dogs, instructed cats are dangerous animals, and informed Mother will soon give birth to a dog. The children — who, at a guess, are in their mid to late twenties — spend their days taking part in strange tests and cleaning the house. For fun, they re-enact scenes from movies — among them Rocky and Jaws. A treat is when the entire family listens to Frank Sinatra after dinner, although Father tells them it’s their uncle singing and mistranslates the lyrics.

Their only interaction with the outside world is Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou), a security guard, who Father pays to sexually service the Son on a weekly basis, but is, in turn, serviced by the Older Daughter in exchange for gifts. (When Father finds out, his retribution is shocking and brutal.) As the film progresses, cracks tear apart the domestic “status quo” and violence erupts. Son skewers a cat with shears; Older Daughter takes a kitchen knife to her brother’s arm.

There’s a stark, graphic quality to Lanthimos’ filmmaking. Even his framing is unsettling, the camera often cropping off heads, a stylistic device that only adds to the all-pervading sense of disquiet and unease. Moreover, the film isn’t interested in explaining or analysing the parents’ actions, leaving their motives shrouded in mystery. Are they conducting some kind of social experiment, protecting their children’s innocence from outside forces? Or are they, simply, middle-class monsters? (It’s probably the reason both Blu-ray and DVD are totally devoid of extras beyond the trailer.) Forget the Saw series or Hostel’s torture porn, if you want real horror, then this is for you.


Gerard said...

I've managed to miss so many opportunities to see this...

Mark Salisbury said...

Well worth a look, if you get the chance.