It is a testament to the impact young Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos has had on cinema that the word ‘Lanthimosian’ has already been bandied around so much in relation to his surreal, blackly comic oeuvre. Six years since the release of Dogtooth, his masterwork to date, we have anthropomorphic, anglophonic debut The Lobster, which trades Dogtooth’s austere, minimalist, sun-drenched compound for a jaw-dropping spa surrounded by rugged, mountainous Irish land.
However, far from providing a tranquil getaway for Colin Farrell, John C. Reilly and co., this is a place where as singletons they are involuntarily brought to find a partner – only then can they be reintroduced into society. The catch: they must do this within 45 days or they will be turned into an animal (‘of their choice’ thankfully). The cast is a mix of Hollywood stars (woman-of-the-moment Lea Seydoux and Rachel Weisz head a group of single rebels camped in the nearby woods) and small screen faces from British sitcoms such as The Office, Extras, Spaced and Peep Show, which prove to be a notable influence on Lanthimos’ comic style.
Much of the film’s humour comes from the robotic, blunt textese the characters communicate in, which at times leaves little room for subtlety with regards to sexual desire: one can’t help but feel that in a society where three words – ‘Netflix and Chill’ – are what constitutes romantic foreplay, the film’s language isn’t as detached from reality as we might hope. Lanthimos indeed makes a habit of pushing modern cultural conventions to their extreme – it feels less Hotline Bling and more Groundhog Day for Colin Farrell when the hapless Ashley Jensen of Extras fame leaves the exact same voice message on his hotel room answerphone every morning, beseeching him to let her come in: perhaps not since Brave New World has sexual ‘liberation’ felt less appetising.
At times this penchant for the bizarre works to the film’s detriment – there’s a fine line with surrealism between the arresting and a grating, self-conscious oh-so-quirkiness, a line which threatens to be crossed by a camel spontaneously appearing in the background of an outdoor shot. That being said, this is a largely successful marriage of Lanthimos’ disturbing and romantic sides, which come together in a glorious denouement that can only be described as a painfully literal interpretation of the Shakespearian proverb love is blind. Perhaps after seeing The Lobster, certain canine-loving viewers will wish they were too.