Home Movies #1: Dogtooth

The official trailer for Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth highlights the violent, frenetic moments in what is an overwhelmingly static, taut film. The family is blasted beyond all recognition by Lanthimos, and simple concepts, like dinner, parties and, particularly, home movies, are subverted violently to create a sinister and creepy alternate world. Mark Fisher argued in Film Quarterly that the film showed the banal horror of all family life by focussing on one extreme example. By invoking true crime stories such as the case of Josef Fritzl and Natascha Kampusch, Lanthimos points out that rather than this being an extreme fantasy, in fact this walled community is no stranger than real stories of incest and alternative familial structures.

What is intriguing about this film is its use of film as a metafictional trope – the quality of the footage resembles reality shows like Big Brother, a similarly sadistic exercise in false communality. The real life crime stories as intertexts make this connection feel even stronger. Additionally, home movies are used as bolsters to this closed, stultifying world. The highest form of fun, entertainment, intellectual freedom, that is allowed to the children in the family, is to be allowed to watch pre-recorded home movies, footage of the family in their compound. This closed world of metafiction is irrupted throughout the film by reference to other movies; Jaws is referenced, Rocky IV, and finally Flashdance. There is an allusion to pornography being present in the home when one of the daughters asks her mother, in complete innocence, what the word ‘pussy’ means, to which her mother respinds that it is a ‘big light’. Finally, exposure to these outside influences, the only ones which ever penetrate the compound which the children inhabit, causes a rift which destroys the edenic landscape which he parents have preserved. The trailer shows the father assaulting his daughter with a VHS tape, and later Christine, the security guard from his office, with a video recorder. Christine, presumably, watches hundreds of hours of CCTV footage in her job, and , conversely, commits a sexual assault on one of the girls in a place of unmonitored safety, as the girl has no concept of sexuality.

There are several sex scenes in this film, between Christine and the son, between Christine and one of the girls, between the two girls, and between brother and sister. In each scene there is a lack of erotic charge, the depiction of varied non-normative sexualities could be considered liberating, but for the strange lack of affect produced.

The twisted, sinister home movies in this film at once liberate and contain, just as the concept of ‘home’ and ‘family’ are ultimately revealed to be less comforting than frightening in this incredible and powerful portrayal of a family in disintegration. – LJ