Yorgos Lanthimos’s films live and die by their concepts—or gimmicks, depending on your outlook. But while the conceptual framework of his fourth feature, The Lobster, shows little sign of innovation, the size of the canvas most certainly does. Working outside Greece for the first time, and with the potential pitfalls of a larger budget and a star-studded cast, Lanthimos navigates the tricky task of upsizing with aplomb, even if the felicitous expansion can’t quite mask the whiff of over-familiarity.
A wonderfully deadpan Colin Farrell leads the viewer into the high-concept arena step by step so that the proliferation of puckish parameters doesn’t get out of hand. His paunchy sad-sack David has just been left by his wife of 12 years, with little time being wasted before he’s rounded up and taken to the Hotel. Once there, he and the other singleton guests must meet and fall in love with someone new within the first 45 days or face being transformed into an animal of their choosing and released into the unforgiving Woods outside. The stately, exclusive, yet still oddly dowdy Hotel exudes much the same feeling of quiet despair and bygone glory as its hapless inhabitants, though beneath the brown furnishings and fussy decor lies steel. Rules pervade every waking moment, proselytizing seminars extol the virtues of coupledom, and infractions of any kind can and will be punished. Aside from finding the “one,” the only hope of prolonging this hushed agony is to perform well in the nightly hunts in the Woods, where knocking out one of the Loners, an equally regimented group committed to total chastity, will gain you one extra day of freedom.