Written by: Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou
Starring: Christos Stergioglou, Michelle Valley, Angeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni, Christos Passalis
As much as genetics play a role in determining someone’s behavior, the power of influence, and the way people are raised can have an even larger impact. If any film gets right at the heart of this sentiment it’s Dogtooth, which displays human conditioning in a truly horrifying and satirical manner. It seeks to make those watching feel uncomfortable, which proves to be the specialty of its director in one of his earliest works.
Within a fenced-in house, a father (Christos Stergioglou) of one adult son and two adult daughters keeps them home by warning them of the dangers of the outside world. Everything these offspring do have some sort of measure to it, as the father prepares them for adulthood in the ways he sees fit.
Unsettling would not even hit the tip of the iceberg when describing the sheer lunacy occurring in Dogtooth, as it displays the early signs of the emotionless filmmaking of Yorgos Lanthimos and how drab a story can be while simultaneously being entertaining. It makes for a smorgasbord of conflicting feelings because what occurs in the story has a larger message but the unnerving manner of its delivery gets the desired effect.
The manipulation and the conditioning knows no bounds because these offspring have no other source of authority in their lives. The father sets the standard for everything, which makes even the most unbelievable things they get taught to seem credible in their eyes. So many examples to choose from in the story with the most glaring being the fear of cats. The offspring have constructed the idea of them having a brother, who lives outside of the walls of the house, as they throw things over hoping he will receive it. In order to continue their development, he fabricates the idea of cats being so destructive that one killed this brother they have never met and truly sells it by cutting his clothes and covering himself with fake blood. This, unsurprisingly, makes them deathly afraid of even the smallest kitten they see, as they believe it to be the monster who killed their brother. The exaggeration of this example shows how deep this conditioning goes, as these offspring are not mere children.
None of them receive a name and only get described as son, younger daughter, and older daughter. As anonymous as characters can be, they serve more so as experiments rather than actual people, which is what the film intends to do. Heck, even their own father sees it that way. They serve as vessels for experimentation, which makes the introduction of someone outside of the family even more intriguing. The father brings in a security guard to essentially serve as a means for sexual release for the son. She’s paid to have sex with him, but her introduction adds a variable the father did not suspect, especially when the guard begins to interact with the daughters. Adding in someone who has lived and cares not for the experimental side of this really moves the plot in a direction it had to move towards.
The bleakness Dogtooth inhabits very much lines up with the style Yorgos Lanthimos likes to inject into his films. As with The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, he uses his human characters as vessels to deliver information. It explains why they speak with little to no voice inflection with their words. Nothing receives an emphasis, as it appears the actors are asked to deliver their lines as if it were from a textbook. Everything gets said because it must, not because the characters want to say it. With this film, Lanthimos began to turn some heads with the directorial style he brings to the world, which makes him such a unique presence. No one constructs films quite like this man and he definitely knows how to make things painfully bleak.
Just when the film makes you think it won’t get any weirder, Dogtooth steps up to the challenge to display what more depravity it can unleash on the characters and the audience as well. It displays that no matter how much control parents assert on their offspring, a yearning for freedom will always find its way, they just need the spark to get it started. The film succeeds in what it wants to achieve and delivers its damming and satirical message in a manner that will be seared into your brain.