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Review: The Lobster fails to get its claws into you

With a star turn from Colin Farrell, this dark comedy has its moments, but it dips and runs on for too long, says Andrew Johnston

Published 23/10/2015

New romance: Colin Farrell and Jessica Barden in The Lobster
New romance: Colin Farrell and Jessica Barden in The Lobster

The Lobster: Colin Farrell's choice of roles has certainly become more adventurous since the days of Alexander and Miami Vice. The turning point seems to have been 2008's In Bruges, since when he has lent his considerable talents to indie drama (Triage), gross-out comedy (Horrible Bosses) and horror (Fright Night). But none of them have been as wilfully strange as the Dubliner's latest effort.

In The Lobster, Farrell plays a tubby, moustachioed sap named David, who lives in a dystopian near-future world in which being single has been outlawed and anyone unable to find a partner within 45 days is turned into an animal of their choice. The newly-solo David - who is accompanied on his journey by a dog, formerly his luckless-in-love brother - picks the titular crustacean because they "live for over 100 years, are blue-blooded like aristocrats and stay fertile all their lives".

His month and a half is to be spent in a hotel run by Olivia Colman's authoritarian official, who presides over the singletons' every move, as they attempt to find a compatible mate. David is the only named character in the tale, with a starry supporting cast, including Ben Whishaw, Ashley Jensen and John C Reilly, credited simply as the likes of Limping Man (Whishaw), Biscuit Woman (Jensen) and Lisping Man (Reilly).

The sci-fi satire is the English language debut of Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, who previously gave us the decidedly strange Dogtooth and Alps, yet The Lobster is no less cold or inaccessible for not being subtitled. The fact the actors deliver their lines in a stilted monotone only adds to the alien feel.

For much of its first hour, The Lobster is, however, a devilish hoot, lurching between dark humour and some striking moments of violence. It's a queasy mix, but as a commentary on the pressures society puts on us to find a partner and how much we are willing to sacrifice to do so, it hits home in style. The script, by Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou, proves brilliantly cutting.

Alas, around the point the narrative should be starting to wrap up, Lanthimos shifts the action out of the hotel, and The Lobster becomes kind of like a Hunger Games for hipsters.

In the woods surrounding the hotel, David meets Rachel Weisz's Short-Sighted Woman, a member of the Loners, a feral band of freedom fighters, who have rejected the confines of coupledom.

A forbidden romance develops, leading to a relatively conventional third act that - despite a nice cameo from Co Down's ever ubiquitous Michael Smiley - is neither as entertaining nor as affecting as what has come before. A twisted denouement ends things on a high, but by then, the film has lingered for around half an hour too long.

Still, The Lobster is a worthy experiment and bodes well for interesting future work from Lanthimos.

Shot mainly in Co Kerry, it is also marvellous to look at, with the rain-sodden countryside and desolate hotel unusually managing to evoke both summer holidays in the Seventies and a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Three stars

Belfast Telegraph

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