In the immortal words of Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) from The Dead Pool, “Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one.” Never was this more true than in the case of Dogtooth, the 2009 Greek comedy/drama/train wreck from director Yorgos Lanthimos.
What a shame, then, that most of the opinions on this movie are so far out of whack.
You see, this cinematic turd in the punch bowl didn’t get laughed out of theatres when it debuted. Instead, critics heaped wave after wave of praise on Lanthimos and the boys. Dogtooth won the Prix Un Certain Regard at the ever-pretentious Cannes Film Festival, was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, and it currently holds a 92% freshness rating from critics over at Rotten Tomatoes. Even more puzzling is the general audience rating of 72%, although most of these are likely the same folks who patted themselves on the back while watching Black Swan and Inception.Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian hailed the film for its “intentionally skewiff framings.” I don’t know what “skewiff” means, and I have no intention of looking it up (screw you, Bradshaw). What I do know is this: Dogtooth is a meandering flick that gleefully plays to the stereotype of the weird foreign film ill-suited to Western eyes. While it may delight those who routinely write with a death grip on their thesaurus, it also serves to drive away the casual viewer who might otherwise be exposed to the works of true international visionaries such as Park Chan-Wook and Michael Haneke. A few critics may get their blurbs on a DVD case, but the industry suffers as a result.
Dogtooth is set in a walled countryside home located somewhere in Greece, although the vague locale could take place anywhere in the world. Living inside the compound is a nuclear family on the verge of a meltdown, with strict discipline and non-stop brainwashing being carried out by the mother (Michelle Valley) and father (Christos Stergioglou). Their post-pubescent children, two girls (Aggeliki Papoulia and Mary Tsoni) and a boy (Christos Passalis), have never journeyed into the world, and their only contact with the outside is a factory security guard named Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou) who the father pays to satisfy his son’s sexual needs.
These effed-up kids are fed a steady diet of misinformation, such as cats being the most dangerous predators lurking beyond the high walls of their well-maintained prison. The mother also teaches them new words on a regular basis, but these tutoring sessions are twisted to render the children incapable of communicating with anyone outside of the family unit. There’s also plenty of licking, incest, barking, and the most laughable dance sequence since Chris Farley competed against Patrick Swayze in a skit on Saturday Night Live. And all the while, we witness the fantasy realm constructed by the parents beginning to crack and crumble.
It’s obvious that director Lanthimos has something to say about obsessive parenting, home schooling, and blind obedience, but he takes too damn long to get to the point. A scene involving a stray cat and a pair of garden shears should have come much sooner than the 40-minute mark, and even the ironically serene cinematography by Thimios Bakatatakis fails to make up for too many moments that seem inspired by some hellish mockery of Wes Anderson.
And don’t get me started on the emotionless dialogue and listless delivery. Yes, I realize that it’s done for effect, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Boring with a purpose is still boring.
Patient viewers will find themselves chuckling in places, but I’m frankly baffled as to whether or not this was the desired reaction. Dogtooth is enigmatic filmmaking at its finest, although that’s like saying Charlie Sheen is Hollywood weirdness at its best. Skip it and watch Oldboy instead.