Dogtooth ★★★★

Sometimes the most powerful ideas can only be delivered implicitly. They will rely on their receiver’s ability to parse and interpret them to infer meaning and importance. But with the credit this type of delivery affords its audience, there’s a great deal of subjectivity and variance in how that idea resonates. For me, Giorgios Lanthimos’s Dogtooth resonated like an alpha wave, a surreal dream, washing over me gradually and slowly revealing its purpose.

It’s a film that will make you question the very notion of upbringing, and the power our parents have had in determining the way our lives unfold. It’s the story of a close-knit family living in isolation within a walled compound, and predominantly cut off from the world around them. The three children, in their teens, lead a bizarre life where the games they play, the relationships they have with one another, and even the words they use are a direct result of the distorted upbringing they receive from the choices their parents have made.

There’s only a very small number of clues as to what the parents are trying to do as they raise their children - they seem to be following some loosely defined path or prescribed series of indoctrination. Belief system? Cult? In that vagueness lies the nugget of the film’s core idea. The way learning and behaviour are passed down from one generation to the next can look a whole lot like conditioning and programming - especially if a distorted mind is the one doing the teaching. In a vacuum, the result is incredibly disturbing.

Moments of brutal violence, cringe-worthy sexual exploits, and ridiculous game-playing all create an odd mix of dark comedy and grave drama that make Dogtooth a creeping film that easily gets under your skin. Thimios Bakatakis’s cinematography is sparse and powerfully restrained. Its strict framing and lack of dynamism is consistently beautiful, but also lends a sense that we are looking at a bizarre diorama of this family’s life.

Dogtooth raises more questions than it provides answers, and the ending hangs without any attempt at resolution. But the film will stand as a fascinating exploration of the familial dynamic and they attitudes and behaviours we learn and adopt as we grow up. For better or worse.