I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into when I queued up the transgressive Greek film Dogtooth (2009); Netflix’s summary description doesn’t do it justice, which may just be indicative of how difficult it is to categorize. I found it a slow-moving, intriguing, but ultimately kind of icky film about the weirdest nuclear family ever. At the same time, I suspect it’s one of those movies that screens differently depending on your state of mind; in a way, I came away feeling this was just a film I wasn’t in any kind of condition to watch.
A factory owner and his wife keep their three teenage children sequestered at home. Controlling every aspect of their gullible kids’ lives, they’ve basically treated them like guinea pigs from birth. The kids’ homeschooling is fraught with deliberate misinformation: they’re trained to believe they can’t leave the house without being in a car, for example, and have been programmed with the incorrect definitions of words. The result is a bizarre state of suspended childhood. Unsurprisingly, the parents lose their grip on this cruel experiment, when a female security guard — paid by the father to satisfy his son’s sexual urges — introduces new information to the mix.
The film is certainly effective, a mysterious slow burn with a “what the hell is going on?” feel to it. Its early stages are rather playful and amusing as you’re trying to decipher the scenario. But as the film progresses, it takes disturbing turns into explicit violence and sex, and the mean-spiritedness of the parents’ enterprise begins to hit home. As the mystery falls away, it gets harder and harder to watch. The performers bravely execute its perverse twists and turns, and it delivers on its weird premise, a mad arthouse experiment on the surface that also serves as a cautionary metaphor about over-protectionism. But for all its merit, I found the experience rather unpleasant; intentionally so, perhaps, but it’s just not easy viewing.