I don’t know whether to be proud of myself or ashamed that I’m not doing something more productive this week. I’m on par to watch something like 7 movies in theaters in 8 days and it’s not even blockbuster season… Understandably I don’t really feel like reviewing some of them in great depth, so let me just give you some quick summaries since you’re no doubt dying to quench your cinematic palette.
So first I saw Woman in Gold a week or so ago, and basically all you need to know is that it’ll hold your attention to the extent that you’ll drink about 75% of that large soda you ordered out of sheer desperation for things to do. It has a decent enough story, though it loses itself in sporadic and often irritating flashbacks. Helen Mirren delivers a solid performance as always, Ryan Reynolds occasionally shows a little depth, and Katy Holmes reminds us all what a terrible actress she actually is.
While We’re Young was slightly better in that I left the theater NOT disappointed – which is always good. Naomi Watts and Ben Stiller basically mingle with some hipsters and come to grips with parenting, middle-age, and marriage. Think of it as a more sophisticated retelling of This is 40. Fun fact about this movie: the aging male friend with the newborn – that’s fucking Ad-Rock from The Beastie Boys! I KNOW RIGHT? #nosleeptillbrooklyn
Then there was a Master Pancake somewhere in there, a Victory screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, today’s review of White God, Ex Machina later this week, and hopefully a surprise for you beloved audience members later this evening. (Making movies, making songs, and fightin’ ‘round the world).
Anyways, I think it best to preface the review of White God, also known as “Fehér isten” in its native Hungarian, with a disclaimer. No, it’s not another ‘Airman Xley is going to swear a lot’ kind of disclaimer – lord knows I can’t go 5 minutes without saying a damn curse word. The warning I wish to convey concerns the content of the movie and specifically the implied animal abuse that takes place in much of the film.
White God tells the story of 13-year-old Lili (Zsófia Psotta) and her beloved pooch Hagen. In a questionable parenting move, Lili is forced to live with her estranged father after her mother departs the country for several months on a business trip (What business do you have on an Australian beach lady?). Long story short, the dad doesn’t like Hagen and is motivated to leave him on the side of the road after he is threatened with a fine for having a mixed-breed dog in his home.
Lili is naturally heartbroken and begins to rebel (even more than she already does) against her father. Primarily her story focuses on her search for Hagen in the big city, though there is a rather pointless subplot where she hangs out with older, ‘cooler’ kids in her Orchestra group. About the only important bit from this arc is that she plays the trumpet.
The much more interesting segment of the film concerns itself with Hagen’s grand day out and the subsequent series of misadventures the poor pup has to endure. He goes from being confused and afraid after his abrupt dismissal from the household, to the unwelcome ‘new dog on the block’, to victim and gladiator, to revolutionary, and all roles in between. Upon reflection it’s actually comical how many hats this magnificent mutt wears.
Again, I warn you that this film contains a lot of graphic scenes centered on animal abuse. In short: Hagen must battle with relentless Dog-Catchers, survive his dog fighting training as well as the hellish arena, and he must live with the canine sacrifice that is factored into his grand war on humanity. Let me tell you folks, the annual Puppy Bowl ain’t got nothin’ on this film. Hagen the dog leads a racially charged uprising to exact revenge for the cruelty of mankind.
You’ll forgive me if indulge a bit in hyperbole for this film, but it’s just asking to be lampooned a bit. The premise is somewhat ridiculous at times, and just as easily could have unraveled into something like Sharknado had it not been on a rather restrictive thematic leash. Imagine Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but with dogs. That’s essentially the movie. In no short order the film features scenes and cinematography reminiscent of 28 Days Later, the Bourne series, and quite conveniently (for me) the before-mentioned The Birds.
I find it hard to believe that Alamo would have programmed their special screening of the birds to coincide with the American theatrical release of White God, but then again they never cease to surprise me. The Hungarian film comes across as a different kind of allegory when compared to its classic feather-filled brethren. What is that allegory you ask? Fuck if I know. There’s a lack of a clear central message in this movie on top of the underdevelopment of any and all characters and subplots.
Basically the film takes us on a snout-level journey through a frightening world that is more often than not unkind to the likes of our hero Hagen. Thank god there was little to no CGI and that the director Kornél Mundruczó had the good sense to not create a mechanism whereby we could hear Hagen’s thoughts or have his unintelligible growls translated to Hungarian and then subtitled to English. Let Homeward Bound remain the family-friendly, feel good pet adventure, and White God can supersede it by becoming the first canine revenge-thriller.
I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have treats. But what I do have are a very particular set of tricks, tricks I have acquired over a very long career. Tricks that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my dog-bone go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will rip your fucking throat out with my forcibly sharpened teeth and more than likely tear your favorite pair of shoes to shreds.
Bark Bark, Woof Woof,
– Hagen the dog
There are definitely a lot of faults that I will go in more depth here in a minute, but the one thing I do want to attribute to this film is my elicited feeling of hatred. I can’t recall ever watching a film and feeling genuine hate for characters or actions that I’ve seen onscreen. Yes I’m exluding any and all films dealing with mass genocide or the Holocaust, but the sad truth is movies have desensitized me to that kind of tragedy. Feel free to call me any colorful name in the book you want, but you must understand I’m not insensitive to these atrocities – I’m simply not brought to a discernable emotional response watching them in a theater. I mean I’ll laugh in a comedy and occasionally get teary-eyed in a touching scene but that’s about it for me.
This film of course is the exception as I genuinely wanted to use the magic ticket from Last Action Hero and transport onscreen to destroy any and all scumbag humans. There’s a special rung of hell for puppy-beaters you bastards. As ridiculous as the premise comes across at times, there are several scenes that are really gut-wrenching and hard to watch. Is this film an allegory to the Holocaust? Hell, I don’t think anyone knows what the writers/director intended. This canine uprising could be as innocuous as a revenge movie (yes I know that’s an oxymoron) or as pointed as a 1950’s Hungarian uprising metaphor.
Oh right, I’m supposed to be reviewing the film – not talking about myself. My bad. Well do you just want to know the usual stuff? Camerawork, acting*, sound, etc? Well they’re all decent except for the acting. That category gets a special asterisk since its cross-species. Sound? Meh… if you like a panting score and some drooling banjos – be my guest (may not actually contain banjos). Camerawork…well it’s traditional, fairly bland, and more often than not it’s irritatingly handheld. The snout-shots of the hundreds of dogs running together are pretty impressive, but the rest takes on this muted and unambitious tone. It’s actually a lot like 28 Days Later in the more iconic scenes’ cinematography, except – you know – with dogs instead of zombies.
Now acting – there’s an exciting thing to talk about. You see – pretty much every human in this film is dull as brick. They’re all immediately forgettable with the exception of Lili who is more annoying than boring. To be fair – she does get much better as the film goes on, but it’s still irritating. I get it; she’s an angsty, brooding teenager that loses her puppy dog and has to be party to some harrowing ordeal in order to grow close to her father. Why is she suddenly omniscient and knows the dogs are coming for her? It looks as though they’re more concerned with Kibbles & Bits and ripping that dudes fucking throat out to me. Is that supposed to be a throwback to The Birds again? Tippi Hedren? That’s what is known as ambiguity my friends; you don’t know what causes the bird attacks. So shut the fuck up little girl, you’re just barking up the wrong tree.
No – this film’s real stars are the hundreds of mix-breed dogs that frankly deserve an extra slice of bacon for their performances. They’re a phenomenal sight to behold, and I’m happy to hear of their supposed post-film adoption! Hagen (played by twin pups Luke and Body) clearly is both bark and bite as his transformation from lovable to ferocious is truly remarkable. See the film for him since – more often than not – he’s Hagen Daz screen. Without uttering a single word, we understand all the basic emotions he’s feeling and are actually rooting for these pups to go on a murderous rampage. Yeah – fuck that human! He didn’t scratch you behind the ears when you brought him a slobbery toy. What a prick. Those bipedal bozos…
The Bottom Line:
Should you see this film? Only if you think you can sit through a couple incredibly hard-to-watch scenes of implied animal cruelty. Don’t worry. All those human piles of scum get their throats ripped out in an immensely satisfying build-up to the conclusion. Everything else in the film is at least decent, though it is marred by poor screenwriting and a general lack of human acting. Watch it for the dogs and not for the story.
Warning: This is not a family-friendly movie just because it has a dog as the main character. This is the Caesar of the canine world. This is a four-legged Che Guevara that has a baby with John Wick. When this murderous mutt comes a snarlin’ you best be on your way…darlin’.
Hug your pets, take a trip to your local adoption center, and see White God if you want a different take on your typical revenge flick.
Also, I’ve been asked several times why it’s called White God. The simple answer is I haven’t got a fucking clue. The predictable end-scene maybe? She’s white and dog is an anagram of god? Fuck if I know.