The Lobster sure is a weird one, but most definitely worth sticking with. When David's partner of 12 years walks out on him he finds himself legally incarcerated in a seaside hotel where he will have just 45 days to start a new romance, or else be literally transformed into an animal through horrifying surgery. In David's case: a lobster. But in David's world, this isn't particularly odd and the hotel is filled with dozens of lonely singles, all playing along with the system, gradually growing more desperate as their days count down. And things do get desperate.
The film is laced with deliciously dark and dry comedy, along with some very sweet moments of romance, but the threat of violence and mutilation is always there, like a low hum just under the consistently calm dialogue, we are ever aware of the peril David and his fellow guests are in. And just in case you forget, the film offers several viscerally disturbing sequences ensuring you spend most of the film on edge, even when watching a scene of banal domestic chores, or unenthusiastic love making. With a premise this bizarre, I was very much looking forward to reading the short story that The Lobster was seemingly based on. The combination of an outlandish society and such quiet understated humour makes it seem like something a young Harlen Ellison would have written after being sent on one too many blind dates.
But no, The Lobster is an entirely original work by Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, Alps) and the film continues in his style of ludicrous scenarios played terrifyingly straight. Colin Farrell leads as David in a wonderfully understated performance; the star abandoning all of his usual winking charm or swagger to play a cowardly and sometimes cold-hearted man, dealing with his situation as best he knows how. David is really only sympathetic because of the circumstance he's in. His calm acceptance of the controlled mayhem around him, make him unlikeable but understandable in that way Farrell so often excels at. The supporting cast is filled out with a wonderful collection of British comedians and character actors: Ben Winshaw, Ashley Jensen and Michael Smiley all have great turns filled with perfectly dulled reactions to nightmarish situations. However, the real show-stealer here is Olivia Coleman (Peep Show). As the hotel's deranged manager, she never drops her cheerful facade, discussing torture and mutilation with the same coldly plastered smile she uses for match-making and ballroom dancing. The effect is one we've seen before, but Coleman does the funny/frightening balancing act better than most.
Rachel Weisz also manages to find her moments in a difficult role. But she's introduced late in the game as a potential love interest, and most of the fun and games are over before she arrives. But Weisz gives a rich performance for what could have otherwise been a fairly two-dimensional character. Although having her narrate the story is at times a little distracting and often redundant; it occasionally provides a humourous insight to the character's thoughts, but most of the cast are capable of delivering performances nuanced enough to render it unnecessary. One of the film's more puzzling choices is its dialogue. The world is populated with characters who speak entirely in rigid, cold, clipped dot points, portraying very little emotion. Although this dialogue leads to some of the film's biggest laughs, it is just as often to it's detriment. Farrell, Weisz and Coleman get the chance to let their characters' inner worlds shine through, but those with less screen time can be all too vague. Are we watching emotionally repressed, terrified people or just two dimensional robots? It's particularly confusing when this behaviour is still carried on outside of the prison-like hotel. Perhaps this is just how Athens-born Lanthimos thinks all uptight British people sound.
The film has plenty to say about coupledom and singledom and the societal pressures felt by people on both sides of the fence. The elaborate metaphor allows Lanthimos to explore a lot of our notions on romance and monogamy, although the world itself sometimes feels a little less than fleshed out. It's stated multiple times that people can't just pretend to be in love in order to escape this horrible fate, although it's never really explained how this could possibly be monitored. Obviously, to get too hung up on these fiddly details would be to miss the point of the film, but it is nagging nonetheless. However, these are very small problems in what is otherwise one of the stand-out films of the year.
Cold, dark, hilarious and horrifying, The Lobster is a deadpan delight and definitely worth seeing.