I’d heard the basic concept from the DVD box description, that the movie is about a small group who surrogate recently-deceased people to help their families adjust to the loss. That actually turned out to be extremely helpful while watching the movie, which dumps you into the middle of an unexplained situation even more than Dogtooth did.
From D. Kasman’s mixed (but largely disappointed) review:
Alps does not explore why the actors pursue their unreal profession (or passion?), nor how the victims deal with the false replication, nor the differences (or similarities) between ostensibly normal social interactions and those staged by the Alps group. Exploration is cut short in favor of the conceptual impact of the idea: everything serves to film an example of an isolated idea rather than build a cinematic world which contains ideas interacting. These ideas, pitched deadpan, are often very funny – a tone and a result at which Lanthimos clearly excels.
Kasman is right – the movie never pulls together and explains its concept, or explores the wealth of possible meanings and intricacies behind the movie’s netflix summary, or goes in any of the directions that any director given that plot description would travel. Lanthimos lingers on specific details, leaving the story abstract, and the movie begins to spiral into itself, as dialogue and mannerisms leave doubt as to whether any of the four Alps members have true selves (making it possibly a good double-feature with Holy Motors). Or perhaps I didn’t understand the movie at all. But I dug it.
Coach in foreground:
Sad-eyed nurse Aggeliki Papoulia (oldest daughter in Dogtooth and a great reason to watch both films) carries the bulk of the movie, meeting a young girl after a car accident and “replacing” her after her death, finally getting chased out of the house by the dead girl’s parents. Ariane Labed (Marina from Attenberg), is a dancer whose coach won’t let her replace anyone until she performs her routine. Ruthless mustachioed Alps leader Aris Servetalis does a good Bruce Lee impression. Then there’s the coach (Johnny Vekris in his only film, since he apparently died last year), who doesn’t do much.
F. Croce for Slant:
Assigning roles and doling out punishment to the other members of “Alps,” Servetalis’s Mont Blanc alternately suggests a theatrical troupe’s particularly strict director, the pimp in a ring of emotional prostitution, and, most evocatively, a younger version of the father from Dogtooth. Like that earlier film, Alps depicts the deforming effects of repression and substitution, with the avoidance of the reality of a loved one’s death being akin to the avoidance of the world beyond the gates of an isolated house. Where the family unit there was a cloistered horror garden, however, here it becomes an elusive, falsely idealized sanctuary in a world of desolate interactions. It’s no accident that Papoulia plays rebellious protagonists in both films, trying to break out of a home in one and trying to break into a home in the other.