Yorgos Lanthimos is a Greek director who first caught my attention with his 2009 film Dogtooth. Dogtooth is, to put it mildly, an incredibly strange film. I don’t know if I can actually describe it, partially because I don’t want to spoil it but also because I don’t know if I can describe the plot and still keep this review worksafe. It’s a brilliant film, but it’s also one that left you staggering out of the theater, shaken to your core with wide eyes and mouth agape.
That takes a lot of effort to pull off, so I’ve been waiting to see how he would follow it up. And while technically the first follow he did was 2011 Alps, that movie was really hard to find for a very long time. So when I found he was doing an English language film with a near-All Star Cast and a bizarre premise, you bet that I was waiting eagerly for it to open near me.
The Lobster opens with a pretty bizarre premise (and a very strange first scene that I still don’t totally get, but never mind): After the lead character, David (Colin Farrel)’s wife leaves him, he is taken to a strange hotel out in the countryside. There, he is given a singular mission; He has 45 days to identify one of the other patrons he’s romantically interested in, and fall in love, or he’ll be turned into an animal.
That’s already an incredibly odd premise, but the movie makes it odder through execution. No one in the movie seems to find this arrangement odd in the slightest. Indeed, they all seem to take it as read, and instead wind up discussing the details of the transformation, or what animal they’re going to turn into. This allows the rules to be slowly revealed to the audience, which just causes the movie to get stranger and stranger as it goes on. The effect is a casual surreality that almost feels like David Lynch decided to direct a Rom-Com.
Of course that surreality could be coming from the movie’s indifference for genre, or from all the actor’s strange delivery. At various points the movie feels like it’s a comedy, a horror film, a sci-fi allegory or a romantic drama, and often it feels like more than one at the same time. The most horrifying scenes can be made funny by the actor’s emotionless and matter-of-fact delivery of strange concepts, while the romantic scenes can suddenly be made terrifying by the sudden reveal of the consequences attached.
This is one of those movies where the actors have to give incredibly odd performances across the board, the delivery of even the most intense lines required to be flat and stilted, but there’s room for uniqueness in there. Rachel Weiz is the most memorable of the secondary roles, partially because she narrates the entire film in an ominous monotone, which brings out some of the best laughs in the film.
But Colin Farrel also deserves a lot of praise for not only his physical transformation into a frumpy, overweight man, but also for pulling back all his charisma, turning one of the most likeable men working in Hollywood into someone who looks drained of life. I’d also like to mention John C. Reiley and Ben Wishaw as David’s friends in the hotel, who manage to find differing kinds of patheticness in their desperation to find someone before their time is up. And then there’s Lea Seydoux as… you know what, I can’t tell you what her deal is, but trust me, she’s great in this.
The script is an utterly brilliant handling of its story and themes, slowly unfolding layer after layer and guiding the audience through what could easily be some jarring tone shifts. The dialogue is distinct enough from character to character to allow for character depth even within the flat stilted delivery, and it handles its themes with a surprising amount of deftness, when the premise sounds like could be completely overbearing.
Combined with some brilliant direction, and an utterly fantastic score (it’s really overbearing but…in a good way? Like, the overbearing score makes things funnier? Whatever, you’ll see what I mean when you see it because, spoiler alert, I’m gonna recommend you see it) the film is an utterly brilliant little trip.
It’s not perfect (so few things are). It does lose a bit of steam in the third act, when all the rules have been revealed and it has to fall back on its plot to keep it going. It’s not bad, but it does feel like a bit of a step down compared to the previous acts. Also, and I am contractually required to mention this: I am a complete weirdo when it comes to movies like this, and there’s therefore a not-insubstantial chance that you might not like it as much as I do. I mean, the audience in my showing seemed pretty into it, but still. Just a warning.
But regardless, in my estimation The Lobster is brilliant film, a hilarious comedy, a terrifying horror film and a brilliant piece of satirical sci-fi. I mentioned last week that The Nice Guys was my favorite movie of the year, but I think this is the fastest that one of those movies has gotten replaced, because The Lobster is my new favorite. If it winds up playing anywhere near you, I recommend you see it at the first opportunity. And if not, grab it the second it hits DVD or streaming. Seriously, just see this movie.
Elessar is a 26 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he thinks you all know what animal he’d want to be turned into.
– excellent script and direction
– fantastic handling of genre and tone
– great, if intentionally flat, performances across the board
– weird story might turn some people off
– third act is a bit of a letdown