(Yorgios Lanthimos, 2015)
There are some brilliant ideas and moments here. The central conceit is the kind of thing that shows how imaginatively conservative so much cinema is: it imagines a world where single people are sent to a hotel in order to pair off within 45 days. If they do not, they are transformed into the animal of their choosing. Some evenings, they head off to a local forest to hunt "loners", rogue singles who have forsworn relationships and live off the land. David (Colin Farrell), recently abandoned by his wife for another man, arrives at the hotel with his brother in the form of a dog, and befriends a man with a limp (Ben Wishaw) and a man with a lisp (John C Reilly), while eluding the affections of a desperate woman (Ashley Jensen). Halfway through the action shifts to the forest as David joins the loners. Here, and against the rules, he falls for a woman who is short-sighted, like him (Rachel Weisz), but if the leader (Leá Seydoux) finds out, they will be in danger.
This is all told in a series of deadpan scenes with flat, affectless delivery of dialogue, Lanthimos' coldly controlled style, and a severe score of several pieces for string quartet sawing away in the background.
While there are some moments of brilliant comedy, much of the success of the material is down to the cast. Farrell and Wishaw do extremely well at halting and awkward loneliness, while Olivia Coleman is another standout as the matter-of-fact hotel manager. Weisz's voiceover is played for some big laughs too, but the story takes a strange turn towards the climax and becomes surprisingly moving.
The allegory at the heart of the story is a little too broad and vague to sustain an entire narrative, even if sometimes it becomes more precise and pleasingly cynical. There are shots here at online dating logarithms, tinder and our cultural acceptance of couples over singles which are often provocative, but much of it is too scattershot to have much of an effect, for all that it is still witty and accessible.It occasionally hints at making more profound statements about human attraction and repulsion - why we need other people and what it does to us - but never quite commits to that.