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Dogged (Movie Review)

Dogged (Movie Review)
09.13.2017by: Jake Dee
5 10

PLOT: When Sam (Sam Saunders) returns home to a small British isle in order to attend a mysteriously deceased girl’s funeral, his investigation of events leads to a harrowing trove of long-buried town secrets.

REVIEW: In 2015, longtime Art Department Greensman, the aptly named Richard Rowntree (can you dig it), submitted a 4-minute short film called DOGGED to the competitive BBC Three series The Fear. Coming in 5th position, the short would become the 4th most successful UK based horror feature film to receive funding from Kickstarter. Flash forward two years to the full-length expansion of DOGGED, a connoted double-entendre of a young man’s dedicated effort to unlock a mysterious sect of canine-worshipping occultists. If only the film were as meaningfully clever as its title. Alas, what transpires after a languid hour and a half of meandered sleuthing, is a movie that, aside from a plaudit or two of amateur do-it-yourself tactility, reveals itself to be little more than an inferior, low-fi, overlong wannabe WICKER MAN. It pleasures none to say that in time, even if excused by its miniscule budget, the flick is bound to be treated as its title suggests by critics and audiences alike: DOGGED!

Sam (Sam Saunders) is beckoned back to the British island community he grew up in. There to attend the funeral of a girl he knew, Sam begins to question the mysterious nature of her death by suddenly plummeting off a cliff. A cliff most locals know to steer clear of. Getting the runaround from almost everyone he encounters, including his disapproving codger of a father (Philip Ridout), Sam feels a sense of alienated isolation. He wanders around the woods way too often and for far too long, eventually spotting what looks to be a dirty dog-headed biped roaming about. He shakes it off at first, focusing his lusty attention toward Rachel (Aiysha Jebali), daughter of irascible local pastor, Father David Jones (Toby Wynn-Davies). The closer Sam gets to Rachel, the more Father David grumbles and grouses, which in turn hikes Sam’s suspicion. And the more Sam probes, the more he’s repudiated by the townsfolk.

More woodland wandering follows suit for Sam, which again leads to more eerie dog-headed sightings. It’s only when Sam confronts a local hippy girl named Sparrow (Nadia Lamin) that he begins to understand the seedy and sordid back-story of these odd anthropomorphic occurrences. Not to betray too much, but it seems a bad acid trip long ago precipitated a strange cult of black-magic practitioners that continue to run rampant on the island to this very day. It’s a pretty dubious explication, almost akin to a Scooby-Doo episode, one made all the more infuriating by how long it takes to reveal such. Thankfully, aside from one truly grisly bout of gut-smearing violence at the midpoint, Sam’s climactic confrontation offers a decent dose of compensatory horror that nearly atones for the endless stretch of inactivity preceding it. Nearly.

That really is the most glaring issue with DOGGED, the poorly edited length. Had this movie been chopped by 20 minutes or so, scripted a bit tighter and pared down to its absolute essence, the overall enjoyment of the film would likely escalate multifold. It’s the opposite of TEMPLE, which took a short film premise and barely inched its way to the finish line. DOGGED crosses the finish line and does an extra lap or two. Granted, what Rowntree has turned in on an unthinkable budget of £15,000 is pretty impressive on its own, and surely worthy of wanting to see what he can do with far greater resources. But going from a 4-minute short to a 114-minute feature based on the same premise is a bit of a reach, and frankly, the longer the movie unspools, that’s precisely what it begins to feel like: a reach. A longwinded, pained, strained grasp at making the movie amount to more than it needs to be. As director, Rowntree is ultimately responsible for every creative decision, which has to include failing to find a more prudent editor with the requisite know-how to trim the fat and cut the leanest, most efficient film possible. No movie made this cheaply and independently needs to be so overstayed.

At least, not with such a dearth of genuine fright. While the overarching mystery is competently kept intact for most of the duration, the path getting there isn’t rife with nearly enough startling imagery outside of animal-mask wearing weirdos skulking in the woods to make the protracted wait a warranted one. Again, it’s understood one can only do so much with such monetary limits, but a nearly 2-hour horror movie must provide more than the measly modicum of thrills lent in DOGGED. That the film is both too long and too bereft of hardcore horror means it’s a single pitch from striking out, but for a crowd-funded first time feature for almost every position involved, including the director, writers, producers, lead actor, DP, editors, costume and production designers – collectively – the team barely eek out a forceful bunt. Let’s see what the crew does with a bigger budget and more focused script.

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