The well-deserved recipient of the Un Certain Regard award at last year’s Cannes festival, Dogtooth (Kynodontas) is the strikingly bizarre and genuinely mind-blowing second feature from Greek writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos. Taking place almost entirely within a single location, a spacious house with a garden and a swimming pool surrounded by a tall wooden fence, the film centres around a married couple and their three grown-up children, who have never set foot outside and are confined to the ludicrous universe created by their tyrannical parents. Peculiarly innocent and eager to make sense of the skewed world they live in, the siblings are subjected to a regimented daily life that includes rigid exercise sessions and competitions as well as lessons from home-made tapes on which the parents teach them perverted definitions of words. The only outsider allowed to penetrate this insane domesticity is Christina, a female security guard at the father’s factory who is employed to have sex with the son but seems to have her own agenda.
Proving to be the chink in the family’s armour, Christina’s intrusion sets off a chain of events that has increasingly nasty and tragic consequences. To elaborate further would give too much away, but the madness and cruelty of the father’s plan to raise his kids in a completely sheltered existence is exposed as the three ‘children’ characters slowly forge ahead to explore their growing curiosity about the outside world. The relationships between them are superbly performed in a matter-of-fact style that is at times shocking, yet unashamedly funny too, as when the brother is forced to choose one of his sisters to relieve him of his sexual urges when Christina stops coming to the property. And although determinedly not a horror film, there are a few moments that are sure to make the audience gasp.
Set on the borderline between the real and the incredible, Dogtooth plays on everyone’s perception of the family while offering a glimpse of the distorted dynamics that are set in motion by over-controlling parents. Yet, the film has a lot more to offer than a psychological survey into the shoals of family dysfunction. Contributing to the parents’ outrageous stories about the dangers that lie beyond the garden fence, the isolated country home gives the film a claustrophobic feel and a consistently troubling atmosphere of hilarious otherworldliness and lurking evil. But the film’s truly brilliant achievement, and what makes this odd fable all the more effective and original, is the deftly balanced mixture of raw and uncompromising realism with a dark and absurd sense of humour and occasional, unpredictable moments of cruelty. Marking Lanthimos out as a great talent to watch, Dogtooth is a bold and unsettling mini-marvel that first sneaks up on you before biting you to the bone.