Films like Dogtooth — cool, clinical, provocative, sexually explicit, with flashes of disturbing violence and a blackly comic tone that makes you shudder as much smile — don’t usually get nominated for Academy Awards. Yet the film’s Best Foreign Language Film nod in 2010 was testament to just how deeply Yorgos Lanthimos’ second feature had sunk its teeth into viewers and refused to emotionally let them go. Almost a decade on, Lanthimos has made a highly successful English language transition to ‘Hollywood’, or at least its stars (Nicole Kidman, Emma Stone, Colin Farrell), accruing more awards recognition and, at the time of writing, likely to surpass previous hauls with this year’s aptly-titled period revision, The Favourite.
It’s fascinating to see such an uncompromising filmmaker go so (relatively) mainstream with all his stylistic and thematic tropes intact, yet Lanthimos appears to have done so. Perhaps it’s because the surface look of a comedy, or a thriller, or a period-set love triangle — the genre filmmaking nature of his work — encourages people to seek them out. But it doesn’t fully explain their subsequent embrace of such deliberate dismantling and obscuring of familiar genres that often holds both the characters, and the audience, at arm’s length, seeming to impassively study both with a piercing, if often wry gaze.
If his debut, Kinetta (2006) was an entrancing but endurance-testing mystery, Dogtooth offers much clearer clues to its construction and ultimate destination. Though even a plot summary — controlling parents hold their adult children hostage with distortion and lies about the outside world — doesn’t really indicate how far Lanthimos and his frequent co-writer Efthimis Filippou take their surreal flights of fancy. Perverse and primal, Lanthimos’ films are the unpredictable mongrels at Hollywood’s dog show; well-groomed enough to mix with the pampered pets, but impossible to truly tame.
Watch Now: Yorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth, here on Fandor.