“Soon your mother will give birth to two children and a dog”
Yorgos Lanthimos’ breakout movie is a hallmark of minimalist filmmaking coupled with a darkly funny concept. Dogtooth is a clear indication of the director’s strength to tackle dystopian settings fused with black comedy elements to make a truly unique film. It’s no wonder he went on to make The Lobster and The Killing of A Sacred Deer, as Dogtooth truly feels like the start of exploring highly original and sinister stories.
Dogtooth’s premise centers around children whose parents control the information that’s provided to them from birth. A film about those who grow up without the knowledge of what lies in the outside world and have only the “facts” that are installed onto them by others. It’s a minimalistic plot but one that makes for a disturbing film, despite the moments of humour.
There are scenes that switch from being disturbingly dark and then to being unusually funny which for me was a weirdly wonderful combination. It’s a strange form of black comedy, where the comedy is at the expense of the characters but ultimately creates a story that’s engrossing to watch unfold. I loved watching the lies that the parents developed to answer basic questions of existence such as explaining why the children often saw planes in the sky. There’s also a fantastic scene where they meet a certain animal for the first time (without spoiling what it is) and the children’s reactions are hilarious but also inherently disturbing to think about why they are behaving in that way.
Yorgos Lanthimos feeds off audience’s uncertainty about whether they should be laughing or not, and also makes the audience question why they’re laughing at the interactions that come from the psychological abuse the characters are experiencing. Those inner dialogues of wondering why the scene feels funny is a feature that started in Dogtooth and has been exemplified with the rest of Yorgos Lanthimos’ filmography. I’ve had the same feeling with his other films The Lobster and The Killing of A Sacred Deer which show that this a quality this writer/director excels at. I love how he can create an original premise but also reinforce an unusual feeling throughout his films that can provide for some creepy bursts of humor.
Yorgos Lanthimos will try to accentuate this aspect with the visual look of the film. The blocking of the characters will be awkwardly framed, or the camera is positioned in a strange place that works again to emphasize the unusualness of the story. Even at times when characters are talking, Yorgos Lanthimos will only show the bottom half of their body and won’t have a shot showing their mouths moving. There are often scenes where the camera is put behind the characters and we don’t always get a front view until later. Clearly, there’s been an effort made to insert shots that aren’t exactly conventional but work only in the context of presenting an unusual feel to the film. Yorgos Lanthimos knows where the limit with these kind of shots is because I didn’t feel confused at any point and could still follow the plot as it developed over time. This is a testament to Yorgos Lanthimos’ knowing how to balance unconventional visuals without it becoming detrimental to the story.
Overall Dogtooth might appear small in scope, but its story is filled with wonderfully written scenes that make it a must watch. I was never bored by the minimalist approach because there was always an interesting interaction between the family and I was constantly in a state of strange awe. Dogtooth can be viewed as both a great character study but also a psychological study of the consequences of hive mentality. I can also see questions of ethics coming into play by examining reasons why the parents chose to manipulate their children which was left up to the imagination of the viewer to answer.
This might feel like a dystopian drama by how strange the interactions are, but in all honesty, I took this film as a plausible piece of reality even if it is entirely fictional. Dogtooth will always remain in my mind and whenever I revisit it I’m pleasantly surprised by different nuances and idiosyncrasies that I didn’t notice on the first viewing. I can’t recommend this film enough for those wanting to view something completely different and unlike anything out there in terms of a psychological character drama. I’d also wholeheartedly suggest you check out Yorgos Lanthimos’ other films as well because he’s a director to watch in the future. See it.