“We accept the reality of the world which we are presented,” says Ed Harris’ reality-TV puppetmaster in The Truman Show. And just as his star comes to accept the narrow parameters of his surroundings, so too do the three grown children of Giorgos Lanthimos’ brilliant isolationist parable Dogtooth. Cooped up in a remote country estate, unable to see beyond the tall wooden fence around their lawn, these three unnamed young adults (Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni, and Hristos Passalis) have had their knowledge of the world dictated entirely by their parents, who feed them false information and find ways to instill anxiety about the terrors lurking outside their property. Their lives are under quarantine, contained by lies—some small and hilariously improvised, like a made-up language that defines “zombies” as little yellow flowers, and others more insidious, like a made-up fourth sibling whose unfortunate demise is meant to serve as a cautionary tale. Truth, in this scenario, is a devastating virus.
Dogtooth could be read as a movie about parenting. All parents, no matter how noble or dubious their intentions—and the parents here, played by Christos Stergioglou and Michele Valley, are plainly psychotic—act as filters of information, and that’s naturally going to lead to some distortion. Yet as children age, they become more curious and independent—not to mention blitzed by hormones—and the control parents might have exerted earlier in life starts to fade. Stergioglou and Valley have raised three seriously infantilized adults, but Dogtooth opens at a point where their influence has weakened, and the film evolves into a tense, disturbing, often savagely funny struggle between chaos and control.
While Lanthimos doesn’t make any specific political allusions, Dogtooth carries a lot of resonance in the Glenn Beck era, when people are living in paranoid bubbles of their own making, bunkered down by ideology. The film’s provocative conceit and the cold-blooded precision of its violence recall Michael Haneke, particularly Funny Games and Time Of The Wolf, but Lanthimos has a prankish sense of humor, and favors an offhand absurdity that aligns him closer to Luis Buñuel. As Dogtooth’s carefully cultivated fictional world begins to unravel, the fallout accelerates too fast for anyone on screen to cope. The truth goes hand-in-glove with a feeling of blind panic. It’s an exhilaratingly unpredictable experience, and not an easy one to shake.