Written by Michael Schutz-Ryan
Dogtooth is not a horror movie, but its twisted themes and dark storyline certainly warrant a mention here. The 2009 Greek film (and 2011 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language film) tells the tale of the sheltered lives of three siblings, whose names are never revealed. A son and his two sisters are held captive by their parents, probably to safeguard them from the evils of the world, but we are never explicitly told their reasons. The absence of the question, “Why?” illustrates the foreign film sensibility that sets Dogtooth a step above the thrillers Hollywood pumps out. The movie knows that the “why” doesn’t matter when the “what” is so compelling.
The film opens with a tape-recorded vocabulary lesson, redefining words indicative of a world beyond the family’s back yard. “Sea” is a leather chair with wooden arms. “Motorway” is a very strong wind. Their routine is comprised of tests and challenges to earn rewards—mostly the honor of choosing the night’s entertainment. One of the most popular choices is videos—simply home movies of the family. The siblings come up with their own twisted games, too. The youngest delights in games of “endurance,” to see who can stand pain the longest.
Dad—the only one to leave the “compound”—brings home a woman, a co-worker, to fulfill his son’s maturing sexual needs. This is followed by a cheery group pose with the woman because the family doesn’t “have one with Christina yet.” Just how long has this been going on? Unsatisfied with the robotic sex, Christina begins to trade petty possessions for cunnilingus with the elder sister. Who then persuades her younger sister to lick her, and a recurring black comedy ensues as the girl takes to licking the elbows, ears, shoulders of her family members. It is one of these trades with Christina that open the elder girl’s mind to the great big world.
Wondering yet how the parents explain the airplanes flying overhead? Or what they say about the discovery of a cat in the garden—a creature the siblings have never seen nor heard of? Let’s just say that they are a deviously ingenious couple.
The film shows us this bizarre family right at their tipping point. The maturing children are beginning to doubt, to question. It is, of course, the son’s sexual awareness that brings in the outsider, and is therefore the catalyst for the final catastrophe. But it is the elder daughter’s plight that we most connect with. She has grown impatient and longs to know what lies beyond the property-enclosing fence.
Revealed with a sort of clinical detachment, the film doesn’t judge these people or events. It presents its own stark reality and allows us to laugh or cringe however a particular scene strikes us. Dogtooth is truly unique, dark, and disturbing, told with the abject realism only found in foreign and indie films. It may not be horror, but anyone interested in the more subtle terrors of the human mind will find much to like with this one.
Four Dweller Heads!