Over the years I have seen a lot of strange movies. Hell, I even made one, but Yorgos Lanthimos' 2009 film 'Dogtooth' stands proudly amongst the strangest. Winner of the Prix Un Certain Regard at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the 83rd Academy Awards, 'Dogtooth' is thankfully more than just weird, it's also quite exceptional. Both darkly funny and unflinchingly disturbing, this bizarre examination of adolescence, overprotection, sexuality, innocence, and the unstoppable, inescapable realities of growing up is an experience that will linger with you long after its images have faded from your screen.
The plot centers around three young adult siblings, two sisters and their brother. Fearful of the outside world's potential negative impact, their parents have locked them away in a seemingly peaceful compound. To keep them complacent and unlikely to desire escape, they have also concocted an elaborate and utterly bizarre mythology about the real world which they have fed to their children since birth. Jumping off from this basic premise, the film goes on to delve into some truly odd and uncomfortable situations that manage to find a twisted balance between off-kilter humor and stark, violent realities. Much of the comedy is derived from the quirky, strange behaviors of these unfortunately clueless siblings, and from the desperate and elaborate lengths their parents go to keep them in the dark. Conversely, the film does an expert job of juxtaposing these moments of twisted comedy with some truly unsettling instances that illuminate the characters' warped existence.
The performances from the cast are almost revelatory in execution, pulling off a kind of simplistic complexity. At times they act as if they are from an entirely different planet, and yet still come across as believable, funny, and ultimately heartbreaking. While I have no doubt that the actors are all perfectly normal, well adjusted individuals in their real lives, so convincing are they in their roles that after watching this film I can't imagine any of them behaving as such. Still, as strange as their actions and almost monotone deliveries can be, there is also a remarkable level of natural believability that they are able to pull off. Likewise, the form of the filmmaking itself blends a nice mixture of slightly heightened style with an almost fly-on-the-wall approach. Compositions are both elegant and off-putting, often featuring angles which cut off parts of the characters on the various edges of the frame. Conventional coverage is also kept to a minimum with many scenes mainly shown in unusual, stationary master shots. Coupled with the somewhat dreamy look of the cinematography, the lack of movement reinforces the slightly removed and perverse point of view that attempts to ignore, stifle growth, and change.
While 'Dogtooth' is a good film, I must stress that its subject matter isn't for everyone (though few great films are). This film is not afraid to delve into topics and issues which most American productions would be fearful to approach, including relatively explicit and contextually disturbing scenes of sexuality, incest, animal abuse, and violence. Still, even with these many heavy matters explored, the film somehow manages to keep a surprisingly potent level of absurdist humor throughout.
Ultimately, 'Dogtooth' is a deliriously funny, utterly unique, and disturbingly strange artistic achievement. Through these unjustly abused young adults, Lanthimos is able to construct a world of humor and dark observations. Even the very words these characters are taught are lies, in an all-encompassing effort to keep them ignorant and thus hopefully innocent. As strange as the concept and execution are, if one really thinks about it, in its own way it's actually terrifyingly realistic. If such a family structure were to be attempted, it's quite likely it would resemble something very much like 'Dogtooth' depicts. In the end, the film is an amusing and intelligent satire about a family so desperate to retain their children's innocence that they don't even realize that their actions to do so end up perverting that very same virtue in a way no influence from the outside world ever could.
'Dogtooth' is presented in a 1080p/AVC transfer in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Though Kino has done a seemingly good job of preserving the director's intentions, there are some very minor issues which hold back the video just a bit.
There is a somewhat surprising amount of slight print damage for a film as recent as this, with some specks and dirt present every now and then, though thankfully it's never distracting. A thin and sometimes heavy layer of natural grain is also present throughout. The picture is fairly soft in appearance, adding to the off-kilter viewpoint it provides, but detail is still solid. Depth is rarely impressive, but colors have a pleasing, though occasionally subdued quality to them, bolstering the otherworldly subject matter. Contrast is intentionally blown out at times, but black levels are a bit elevated and bring a washed out quality to certain scenes.
Overall, the video transfer here seems to honor the intended look of the film and though its style is artistically impressive, from a technical perspective it leaves a bit to be desired. Still, a solid job by Kino.
The film is provided with a Greek DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track with optional English subtitles. Though a fairly quiet film, there are moments of impressive sound design on display here.
Dialogue is very crisp and full sounding. Surround usage is kept to a minimum, but does come into play in some very natural, and subtlety immersive ways. The director utilizes silence and sparse sound design to great effect throughout, and again, though quiet, there is actually a nice level of dynamic range present which punctuates the more serene elements of the track with the harsher realities at work, featuring loud screams and people barking. Yes, people barking. Did I mention this is a weird movie? Bass is fairly absent, but balance between all the elements is both functionally and artistically sound.
This is a deceptively simple track that is actually much more impressive than it may first seem. Though it will by no means show off your fancy new surround system in the same way a flashy action film might, it's still a strong example of a soft, but effective track.
'Dogtooth' is not an easy film, but its strange and unique world offers an intelligent look into the psychology of family dynamics and growth that is both funny and disturbing. The video and audio are both good and though pretty minimal, the supplements are worth a look. For those with an open mind, this disc is definitely recommended.