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Film Review: Dogtooth (2009)

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SYNOPSIS:

Three teenagers live isolated, without leaving their house, because their over-protective parents say they can only leave when their dogtooth falls out.

REVIEW:

Dogtooth (aka Kynodontas) is not the typical “extreme” film that gets reviewed over here at Horrornews.net. There are no serial killers on the loose, no torture sequences that look so real you have to watch a second time to be sure. There are no monsters, no living dead, no demons, no cannibals. No genitalia is chopped off, no heads explode, and no bodies are split in half; hell, there’s barely any blood in this picture (there is some, don’t worry). In fact, whereas many films we talk about here get nominated for awards like best gore scene and the like, Dogtooth was nominated for an Oscar in 2011 for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year (it lost out to Denmark’s In a Better World). But all things considered, this is one of the more disturbing, demented films I’ve reviewed in my three years writing about movies for you.

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Imagine how different life might be if, from your very first day on this planet, you were closed off from the rest of the world and confined to your home and yard. That is the central premise to director Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth (co-written with Efthymis Filippou). It’s the story of Father and Mother (played by Christos Stergioglou and Michele Valley, respectively) and their children, Son (Hristos Passalis), Older Daughter (Angeliki Papoulia), and Younger Daughter (Mary Tsoni), and the deranged life they live. The characters get no other names as we follow them through what is their normal day to day existence. This life consists of home-schooling via their parents and factually-inaccurate audio cassettes (for example, the children are told “zombie” means “small yellow flower” and “c*nt” means “large lamp”), as well as random sibling competitions for which the winner is given a small number of stickers.

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They have almost no ties to the world outside of their fenced-in yard – when they come across a stray cat, the kids are told they are lucky to be alive after encountering such a dangerous beast. The children also believe they have a brother that lives just past the fence, and sometimes talk to him or throw him food. There are a couple minor exceptions to this “no outside influence” rule. For one, Father has a regular job and comes and goes as he pleases. Father has also hired a girl, Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou), to visit Son now and again and take care of his, uh, “male urges.” Right now you’re no doubt thinking about the movie Bad Boy Bubby that I reviewed a while back, and how Bubby was similarly confined to his mother’s apartment and told that he couldn’t leave because the air outside was toxic and dangerous. So, you’re now wondering, why are these children being sheltered from the outside world? *Spoiler Alert* Don’t worry about it…

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The overall premise to Dogtooth is disturbing, but the entire situation is exacerbated when one of the siblings gets a hint of outside life. Naivety is replaced by confusion and frustration, and things get ugly…er, uglier. And uncomfortable. And always in the back of our minds is a little bit of dialogue from a family dinner that relates to the movie’s title: the only time anyone is ready to go out into the world, according to Father, is when their dogtooth (canine) falls out. After having us feel for these poor kids (and possibly Mother, as we can’t tell for sure how much she is implicated in the plan and how much she, too, is a prisoner in her own home), the film finishes off with a tense climax and a very ominous and haunting ending, in my opinion right up there in tone with the finale of George Sluizer’s The Vanishing (aka Spoorloos).

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There is not one single reason why this movie works; it’s a collaborative effort. To make us believe that these folks have never experienced life outside of the artificiality that has been presented to them, we need not only a well written script, but superb acting across the board. Luckily, we get just that (of special note is the reference to an airplane in the sky, and what happens later involving a toy airplane – genius!). Add in superb direction and cinematography, and this is a “can’t miss” movie for film lovers of all kinds. It’s as disturbing as it in intriguing, somewhere between a black comedy and a dystopian microcosm of an overbearing family taken to the extreme. Dogtooth is not a splatter, blood all over the place horror film, but it’s a fantastic story that will haunt you just the same.

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