GREEK director Yorgos Lanthimos delivers his English-language debut with The Lobster, an enjoyable yet surreal work that makes the case that he is capable of making good films after all.
In what could be perceived as a dystopian society, people who are single are sent to a hotel in remote Scotland, run by its strict manager (Olivia Colman). They are told that they have 45 days in which to hook up and form a relationship with someone with similar personalities. If they fail within the time allocated, they will be turned into an animal of their pre-decided choosing.
One of the guests that turns up is David (a podgy Colin Farrell as the only named character in the film) who forms slight friendships with Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) and Lisping Man (John C. Reilly). His aim is that should all else fail, he will want to be transformed into a lobster.
As his relationship with Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia) slowly digests, events take place that eventually see him escaping from the hotel and hiding in the nearby Woods. It is there that the ‘loners’ stay, people who have escaped from the hotel facility, led by its cunning leader (Lea Seydoux). The difference here is that relationships, or even flirtation, are subject of heavy punishment, something which doesn’t bode well when feelings emerge between David and fellow loner Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz).
Though it is not perfect, Lanthimos brings his blend of surrealism to good use with this but also brings a clear amount of engagement, something that prevented his Dogtooth and Alps from succeeding in spite of their originality.
With the film being divided into two halves, the first allows us to focus on the inside world of the hotel as relationships break and form, bringing a varying degree of emotions, some saddening and some deliciously dark. Regarding the latter, one key memorable scenario depicts Lisping Man being humiliated in a dinner room where as punishment for breaking the hotel rules, his hand is forcibly placed inside a toaster.
It is easy to say that the film succeeds most when at the hotel, and yet in spite of producing some somewhat unlikable characters, mainly Whishaw’s selfish Limping Man, it is watching the clashes of likable and unlikable that proves entertaining.
As the pressure builds for a relationship to be formed, a small fight takes place between Reilly and Whishaw’s characters, with Farrell attempting somewhat unsuccessfully as peacemaker. Scenes like that could do with a bit more of a slapstick feel to make the film a lot funnier but for what it shows, it can do.
As the film progresses into its less claustrophobic setting for the second half, the idea of turning the film into more of an escape film does play as too soon for the film. Rather than heading straight into the wilderness preferably two thirds into the film, it prevents us from being shown more unusually random sequences featuring only those we see in the first half.
There is enough enjoyment in the second half nonetheless as the film’s opposing factors play key to some entertaining scenes, notably involving the recurrent use of tranquiliser darts and a break-in by the loners into the hotel.
It is the intrigue though that helps the film from working. We see the journeys of various characters and one wonders which ones will be human by the end and who would have failed and become an animal. Even as events involving the loners take a darker turn in the final act, the wonder remains as to whether a happy ending lies in the store for David and Short-Sighted Woman.
As with Lanthimos’ works, there is unpredictability but for once, there is unpredictability and entertainment for the vast part. It is here that an impressive use of humour and tension helps build a case for Lanthimos in showing that directors can pick up and be given another chance to impress even if one has been disappointed more than once.
The Lobster is certainly out-of-the-ordinary and some might not take kindly to it, but for those who like something unusual with help from a diverse cast, this is an interesting piece of work to give two hours to.