'Dogtooth': Home School, By Kurt Loder

The kids aren't all right. No wonder.

"Dogtooth" is an art movie from Greece that's so open-ended, you wonder whatever it is it's supposed to mean has dribbled out the back door. For the first 20 minutes or so, anyway. Then a story begins to gather shape, and the picture, already strange, becomes very creepy.

Three nameless siblings, two girls and a boy, apparently in their late teens, live in a remotely located house with their father (Christos Stergioglou) and mother (Michele Valley). In the sizable grounds outside, there are palm trees and a swimming pool and a high wooden fence that rings the entire property. The kids, we eventually realize, have never been allowed to venture beyond this barrier.

Inside, there's a television set, but it's used only to show boring family videotapes shot by their father. There's one telephone, but it's hidden at the back of a shelf — the kids have never seen it. Their days pass blandly. They are home-schooled by their mother in a most unusual way. Her vocabulary instruction imparts the information that a carbine is a bird and a zombie is a little yellow flower. Occasionally, the father has his son (Hristos Passalis) and two daughters (Aggeliki Papoulia and Mary Tsoni) get down on all fours and bark like dogs.

The father is a boss at a nondescript factory. We see him arriving home in his Mercedes with an employee, a young woman named Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou), who has been blindfolded for the drive. The father takes her into his son's bedroom and leaves. Christina and the son shed their clothes and have perfunctory sex. (The sex and the full-frontal nudity in the movie have the arousing quality of a calculus lecture.) When they're done, the father takes Christina back to the factory.

The movie offers small islands of incident. When a cat — an alien creature — finds its way onto the property one day, the son responds violently. (PETA people will want to avert their eyes at this point.) The siblings explore each other's bodies in a bathtub, wordlessly, as if tracing the shapes on statues. When Christina, on another of her regular visits, sneaks into the bedroom of one of the girls, offering a small gift, the girl says, "What do I have to lick?"

Is there any escape from this bizarre existence? Theoretically, yes. The children have been told they can leave home as soon as their canine teeth — their dogteeth — fall out. The kids don't realize that this means never. Not in any natural way.

The story is inscrutable. Is it an indictment of home schooling? Of middle-class paranoia? Of what? The distinctively talented director, Giorgos Lanthimos, offers no answers, or even suggestions. He observes the family with placid objectivity. When someone in a facial closeup is doing something with his hands, we don't see it. When a character stands up out of frame, the camera stays put. (The shots are beautifully composed.) Even at the end, when we're hoping for a jailbreak moment, the director leaves us hanging in itchy uncertainty. The movie is irritating and disturbing, and when it's over, we want to put it behind us. It just won't stay there.

Don't miss Kurt Loder's reviews of "Knight and Day" and "Restrepo," also new in theaters this week.

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VMAs 2018