Review: Dogtooth

Director: Giorgos Lanthimos
Screenplay: Giorgos Lanthimos
Producer: Yorgos Tsoutgiannis
Starring: Christos Stergioglou, Michele Valley, Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni, Hristos Passalis, Anna Kalaitzidou
Year: 2009
Country: Greece
BBFC Certification: 18
Duration: 94 min

I‘m struggling to find the right words for this review. Dogtooth is the sort of film that’s more of an experience than something with a clear cut narrative or a character based piece. It’s an experience that will absolutely not be for everyone, but it certainly drew me in and held me there.

Dogtooth traps the audience in a minimalist, idyllic house (on the surface) where the three adult children (a son and two daughters) of a domineering father are kept completely cut off from the outside world. We only ever leave with the unnamed man as he goes to work and picks up Christina, a security guard who he pays to have sex with his son to keep him under control. This outside force soon begins to corrupt the rest of the home’s prisoners though and cracks begin to appear in the father’s dominance over his ‘untainted’ family.

I struggled to get into the film for the first 15 minutes (I did get in 5 mins late though), finding the (purposely) stilted acting style and uncomfortable nature of it all a bit much to take, feeling like I was going to be subjected to pretentiously dull crap for an hour and a half. Somewhere along the way though it just crept under my skin. What surprised me most was how darkly funny I found a lot of it. It’s a disturbing film and the mental abuse these child-like twenty-somethings (or late teens) are subjected to is incredibly twisted, but I found the absurdity of it all subtly amusing. There are a fair few ways you can look into the film, but I got the most out of it as a satire of parental control and influence as well as of masculine and paternal dominance. Whilst looking up the film on IMDB I came across a user comparing it to Bad Boy Bubby and I think that’s a fair comparison. Dogtooth doesn’t have the surprisingly uplifting elements of that film and the approach and message is different, but the forced immaturity and disconnection with the outside world is dealt with in a similarly twisted satirical fashion.

It’s a fascinating, if blunt and absurd look at how not only a lack of social communication affects you, but how being cut off from all forms of media stunts development too. The only books the children are seen to read are medical manuals and the only films they watch are home movies on VHS, which the youngest of the three has memorised precisely. When the eldest (no one in the family is given a name) secretly gets hold of a couple of videos from Christina she explodes with energy and mimics their every line and action. It sets her free, but she doesn’t know what the films are and how to digest them, it drives her almost insane.

The film looks great too. It strikes a strange balance between looking cold and clinical whilst emphasising the always sunny and warm exterior of the house and lingering on the innocent, awkward beauty of the two girls/women. The framing is often very abstract too, for instance focusing on the lower half of people at times instead of their faces. It’s full on art-house, a tough film to watch and felt a bit bewildering to begin with, but let it in and you’re in for a bold, fresh and powerful experience.

David Brook
RowThree's UK correspondent.