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“Dogtooth”: The ties that blind.

“Dogtooth”: The ties that blind. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.

Rampaging out of Greece flashing some serious crazy-eye, Giorgos Lanthimos’ outrageous and excellent “Dogtooth” offers dark (and just as often darkly funny) commentary on overprotective parenting. Or is that isolationism at large? The film’s set in and scarcely budges from the rambling countryside estate where three children dawdle like they’re trapped in the dog days of their summer vacation. Only they’re not children — they’re in their late teens and 20s. They don’t have names, beyond designations as the elder daughter (Aggeliki Papoulia), son (Hristos Passalis) and younger daughter (Mary Tsoni). They don’t need them — they’ve never left the walled-in grounds of their home, and beside their mother (Michelle Valley) and father (Christos Stergioglou) seem to have only ever met one other person, Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou), who works at their father’s factory and is brought in each week to sexually service the son.

There’s no TV, no radio, no internet and no awareness of the outside world beside what the extensive, fear mongering mythology created by Mom and Dad. It comes across as the extreme conclusion of the type of warnings parents throughout time have used to scare their young into obedience — “If you keep making that face, it’ll get stuck that way forever!” The only way to safely leave the grounds is in the car; a cat is a dangerous animal that will tear you to pieces; you become an adult and can go only after your canines fall out and are replaced for the second time — so, never. They’ve also schooled the three in an alternate vocabulary that’s part euphemism (“keyboard” is their word for female genitalia) and part falsified definition for terms likely let slip accidentally (“telephone” for salt shaker). When all facts come from you, you can dictate the reality of your world — and so the father insists a Frank Sinatra song the clan listens to is sung by the kids’ grandfather, and “translates” it into an affirmation of family and obedience.

03092010_dogtooth2.jpgThe children spend most of their time playing odd, invented games — competing to see who can hold their hand in hot water the longest, or inhaling anesthetic and racing to be the first to return to consciousness. While adults in the grip of crippling arrested development all but own their own genre these days (“Step Brothers” being a kind of apogee), there’s something terribly, mesmerizingly convincing about “Dogtooth”s trio as half-formed hothouse human beings, wandering around in bathing suits and sundresses, childlike and docile as cattle, but each manifesting his or her own form of stir-craziness.

Lanthimos, who also co-wrote “Dogtooth” with Efthymis Filippou, gives us no sense of time passing — this could be an endless loop of summer days, the white walls, green lawns and grubby pool an eternal, repressive Eden. Cinematographer Thimios Bakatatakis likes to frame fixed shots so that the children loom out the top, like limbs shooting past the confines of outgrown garments. Before there’s any actual incest — and “Dogtooth” has some shrinkingly disturbing sexual sequences — there’s the metaphorical sort. For entertainment, at night, the family watches videotapes of themselves doing the same thing nothing in particular they’ve done all day, footage apparently so familiar that the rapt youngest daughter can recite along with the action on screen.

03092010_dogtooth3.jpgWhat made the parents choose to keep their kids in such dictatorial, shrinkwrapped isolation? There is, gratifyingly, no easy explanation offered. They don’t impose this quarantine on themselves, talking on the phone behind the locked door of their room, and spicing up their love life with porn. When the father goes out to retrieve a dog he’s purchased and left with a trainer, he’s told he can’t take the animal home yet, that he’d interrupt the process of shaping the dog into the obedient pet it could be. He stares at the dog in his cage. The dog looks back at him. The dog, at least, will eventually be deemed appropriately conditioned and released. The children, who are only being shielded from the outside world, have no such end date to look forward to.

While sex is what sets in motion the events that burst the horrific bubble in which the “Dogtooth” denizens live, it’s blockbuster cinema that’s the unexpected apple in the garden. It arrives in the form of two loaned VHS tapes that lead the eldest daughter to become the second sheltered innocent I’ve seen on screen in the last few years (the first being Bill Milner’s character in “Son of Rambow”) to be spiritually transported by a Sylvester Stallone effort. What can’t that man do? Well, besides provide a pat ending. “Dogtooth” closes with an ellipsis that suits the film’s stubbornly insoluble, enduringly provocative world.

“Dogtooth” will be released by Kino later this year.

[Photos: “Dogtooth,” Kino, 2009]


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.