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Submitted by on February 6, 2011 – 8:46 PM14 Comments

Death Race 34, Sarah 22; 2 of 24 categories completed

Your brother is dead. A creature like the one in the garden tore him apart. On the one hand, he made a huge mistake, venturing out ill-prepared. On the other hand, he was my son and I feel sorry for him. The animal that threatens us is a “cat”: the most dangerous animal there is. It eats meat, children’s flesh in particular. After lacerating its victim with its claws, it devours them with sharp teeth. The face and whole body of the victim. If you stay inside, you are protected. We have to be ready in case it invades the house or the garden.

The speech above is delivered by the father in Dogtooth to his late-teenage children, who never leave the grounds of the family home, functionally kept prisoner by their parents in a home-schooling scheme taken to deranged lengths. Each day, the kids learn incorrect definitions for words that might prompt questions about the outside world: the “sea” is a leather armchair in the living room; a “zombie” is a little yellow flower. They play weird games with each other involving anesthetic and holding their fingers in hot water, and compete for the stickers their parents hand out for “performance.”

One of the daughters — known only as “the elder” — does a dance performance for the family that’s clearly based on obsessive viewings of Flashdance, and it’s disturbing in the way it always is when children mimic sexualized things they don’t understand. The kids look about twenty, but act and dress like grade-school children…except for the son, who has clinical sex with a security guard his father brings, blindfolded, home from the factory where he works. The guard, Christina, is the kids’ only contact with the world outside the compound, and that exposure nudges everything, inevitably, off the rails.

The movie sounds appalling, and from a subject-matter standpoint, it is. It’s also outright hilarious in several spots, and while it’s disturbing and weird, it doesn’t feel cynical or bizarre for the sake of it; it has affection for its characters, and it’s interested in following the story where it needs to go. The speech quoted above about the deadly, rapacious feline species is brilliant, but the brother in question…well, I won’t spoil it, but it’s one of not a few fucked-up motifs in the film, and the movie’s genius is switching between those and moments like the brother staring at the lawn and yelling to his mother that he found two zombies. The reason for the children’s confinement is never explained; the end is left ambiguous.

Good flick — not easy to watch, but good.




  • Todd K says:

    “A home-schooling scheme is taken to deranged lengths” sounds like something I’d hear as a teaser for the really bad local news where I live. “Plus, up-to-the-minute basketball scores, and Chuck tells you what the weekend forecast has in store!”

    But this sounds like something I must see.

  • Wendalette says:

    Yet another film about the horrors of homeschooling…? Why is it always kooked-out parents and their subsequently jacked-up kids; super-earnest, do-good parents and their socially awkward kids; or doggedly determined parents and their prodigy kids? Can’t there EVER be a film that shows homeschooling, the parents, and the kids in an at least halfway “normal” light — as just an alternative that works for that family — and only incidental to the other drama that plays out in the plot?

    As a formerly homeschooled (and socially-adept)person, I have kind of strong feelings about that.

    ::End of rant::

    That being said, Sars, I just might steel myself to watch this based solely on your critique, which tells just enough about it to leave me both curious and outenraged* (why yes, I did just portmanteau that word).

    *outraged and enraged

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    It isn’t really about “home-schooling”; there’s just no other analog.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    What the hell was this nominated for? It sounds good but like the kind of good that’s usually ignored except for critic’s awards.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Jen: Best Foreign.

  • Michael says:

    I actually thought you’d hate this film. The lack of explanation for the parents’ closing their children (I’d have put them in their twenties) off from the world and deliberately misleading them – made their behavior essentally a series of non-seqiturs. With at least some basis for their actions, I could have at least rationalized a way to recommend the film, but without it – I found it to be surreal merely for surrealism’s sake. I’d have liked at least some more time devoted to the “eldest” and her motivations – her change seemed too quick and abrupt. Without giving away the ending, I will say that the ambiguity of the ending was about the only thing I liked.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I thought I’d hate it also, based on what I’d heard other people saying about it, positive and negative. The explanation of who Frank Sinatra is, for example, sounded…Lynchy and annoying. But the lack of explanation worked for me. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that drafts or footage existed where it’s flashed back to or explained, but that they got cut because, really, what explanation could be adequate.

  • Jaybird says:

    Wendalette, as a homeschooler myself, I’m with you on that.

    The idea of teaching your kids the wrong definitions for words reminds me, insanely enough, of a [i]very[/i] old Howie Mandel standup bit, in which he states that he’s teaching his 3-year-old daughter incorrect terms for things b/c he thinks it’ll make kindergarten more interesting.

    “Who wants a cookie?”
    “Wearing mine already, thanks.”

  • Allison says:

    @Wendalette: I didn’t feel as though the film said anything negative about homeschooling in and of itself. What I mean is, you get the idea that the children were schooled at home because the parents decided to cut them off from the world, not the other way around.

    For my part, I found the film so disturbing, I couldn’t even laugh at the zombie flower joke. I watched, curled up in a ball, my face a frozen mask of horror. I may just try to repress this.

  • DuchessKitty says:

    I saw this movie at a film festival this past summer and I HATED it. My boyfriend actually walked out half way through and waited next door at the pub for me to get out. I have never resented somebody enjoying two pints as much as that day.

    The thing is, they’ve almost got something here. The story idea is intriguing but the actual script doesn’t take it anywhere. So frustrating.
    I was shocked as hell that it was nominated. I can think about about 10 other foreign films that were 100x better and deserved its spot.

  • Georgia says:


    I’m curious about this Howie Mandell bit, because Steve Martin does one that’s VERY similar, but his is about teaching your children nonexistent words. But it’s so similar, and the Martin bit clearly predates the Mandell bit . . . it sounds like plagiarism.

  • There’s also a theory being floated around that the movie is an allegory about oppressive governments, and maybe even Greece’s government. I don’t know enough about Greece’s current government to be able to comment on that, but it’s an interesting thought.

    I really liked the movie. I kept thinking to myself while watching, “This just can’t possibly get more disturbing,” and yet it did. But I think Sars is right in saying it isn’t bizarre for the sake of it; I would also add I don’t think it’s cruel for the sake of it (unlike, in my opinion, the filmmakers this director has been compared to, Michael Haneke and Lars Von Trier). I don’t think it has a chance in hell of winning Best Foreign Film, but then again I didn’t think it had a chance in hell of even getting nominated, so who knows.

  • Jaybird says:

    @Georgia: Mandel jokes about teaching his daughter to refer to her pants (trousers, not undies) as “cookies”, hoping that when the teacher asks, “Who wants a cookie?”, his kid will reply, “Got mine on already.” It’s…well, silly. I didn’t know about the Steve Martin bit.

  • DuchessKitty says:

    @Seankgallagher – that’s how the film was presented at the festival; an allegory about the oppressiveness of Greece’s government. But it doesn’t even work as that.
    Also, I read an interview with the writer and he said that it’s not that. So…

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