There's nothing more exciting for a film lover than to come across something unexpected. With so many movies these days nothing but regurgitations of the same stale ideas, to sit down and find yourself enveloped in a world of genuine originality is such an immense joy, that thrill of not having a clue where this mad vision might be about to go. Well, that's the experience I had watching Yorgis Lanthimos' 'The Lobster'. It belongs to that strange subset of films that almost defy explanation, but I'm going to try and write some sort of attempt at it - not only to convince you to see it, but to work out what on earth it was that I saw myself.
'The Lobster' is set in a dystopian world where marriage is mandatory and being single is not permitted. David (Colin Farrell) has been sent to the Hotel, where single men and women are required to stay for a minimum of 45 days. They mingle and mix, searching for a partner of the opposite sex with whom they have something in common. If they find their perfect partner, they marry and go to live in the City. If after 45 days they are unsuccessful... they are transformed into an animal of their choice and released into the Woods.
WATCH: 'THE LOBSTER'
Did your jaw just stop a bit? Yeah, that was my reaction too. Just when you thought you'd heard everything, Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou come along with this bizarre little tale that combines science fiction, romance, comedy and biting social commentary. With cinemas awash with young adult dystopias, 'The Lobster' recalls the abstract and disquieting classics of Orwell and Huxley, a simple tale of human beings colliding with one another in a carefully constructed and highly controlled world. Everything about the film is about restraint, from the careful framing to the sparse production design. Rather than explaining the world and its rules from the beginning, the film instead throws you a myriad of questions and leaves you to collect the pieces and put it together yourself, not a single moment or detail wasted. Emotion becomes a rare commodity in this universe, either manufactured or controlled in the walls of the Hotel or rejected altogether by the mysterious Loners roaming the Woods. The concept here is so neatly constructed and expertly executed that half the enjoyment of 'The Lobster' is just observing it and the clockwork behind it. What really makes it work though is the human story at its heart: David trying desperately to find himself a place, whether that be within the parameters set by this world or outside of them. Without that human element, the film would be nothing more than an intellectual exercise, and it's to Lanthimos' credit that he never lets that happen.
This bizarre little tale combines science fiction, romance, comedy and biting social commentary.
From a purely technical perspective, it's a ravishing achievement, somehow managing to be immensely funny and deeply disturbing all at once. The comedy in particular might be its greatest success, whether that be the observational objectiveness of the camera or the sublime cast filled with some of the great comic talents working today. All of them follow suit from Lanthimos by demonstrating incredible restraint in the face of some ridiculous material. Colin Farrell is wonderful as David, who comes across as a total wet fish in the best possible way. Here he is almost stripped entirely of his natural charisma, instead giving us a self-conscious and quietly desperate man. The rest of the cast include Olivia Colman, Ben Whishaw. Ashley Jensen, John C. Riley and Léa Seydoux, all of whom wring every comic moment they can without breaking a sweat or even cracking a smile. The comedy of 'The Lobster' is such a joy because of how utterly deadpan it is played, which not only makes it all the funnier but means the cast and creatives have more scope to turn it on a dime from comedy to tragedy. And rounding off the cast is Rachel Weisz, who acts as both the narrator (often stating the absolute obvious at the best of times) and eventually our second emotional core next to Farrell.
'The Lobster' is a rare breed of film indeed, one that presents something genuinely original but never revels in its own cleverness. It's bleak, acidic, discomforting and hilarious, keeping you poised on the edge of your seat with its many unexpected twists and turns. Regardless of whether you love it or you hate it, you certainly won't be able to stop thinking about it afterwards. I'm already desperate to see it again, if only to try and unpack the film even more and get my head around it. Yorgis Lanthimos has made a remarkable piece of cinema, one that is sure to be debated, studied and enjoyed for many a year to come.