Directed by Richard Rowntree. Starring Debra Leigh-Taylor, Sam Saunders, Nadia Lamin, Philip Ridout, Tony Manders, Toby Wynn-Davies, Aiysha Jebali. Horror, UK, 116 mins, cert 18.
Released in the UK on DVD and Download by Left Films on 9th July 2018.
Student Sam (Sam Saunders) returns to the island where he grew up to attend the funeral of a local girl named Megan, who fell to her death from cliffs into the sea. Upon his return he notices things are slightly off as the locals don’t seem to warm to his visit, least of all his permanently angry father Alan (Philip Ridout) and the local priest David (Toby Wynn-Davies), whose daughter Rachel (Aiysha Jebali) is keen to rekindle her relationship with the returning student. As time goes by Sam notices strange figures in animal masks hiding in the woods, various local figures behaving very oddly and a group of hippie outsiders with their own agenda about the local authorities, and all fingers point to a cult led by Father David consuming the island, but who else is involved and what else have they been covering up?
If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery then THE WICKER MAN director Robin Hardy would, should he still be alive, be flattered to the upmost degree as DOGGED doesn’t so much borrow from that movie as much as steal most blatantly and then do nothing else with the material. Stories about cults and insular communities have graced folklore and literature since the dawn of time, showing the limits that man, as a dominant species, will go to in the name of gods, power and keeping order and DOGGED shows us very little of that. What it does show us, however, is that ambition far outweighs talent when it comes to this movie and yes, if you are going to copy you should copy from the best but THE WICKER MAN is a very high standard to reach, so high that Robin Hardy couldn’t top it despite trying with the dire THE WICKER TREE – a film that was terrible in many ways but at least it was never dull – and ultimately there is nothing in this story to engage you other than a young man has returned home from being away and things seem a bit weird.
Sam as a character is rather insipid, never a hero and coming across as so naive to the point of stupid (“My family has been here for generations. We would have known about it” he replies when confronted with what has been going on), and his fellow protagonist Sparrow (Nadia Lamin) is equally as blank as a character, although at least Nadia Lamin tries to add a bit of strength to her performance and not just read her lines like it was an audition with no proper direction. Speaking of which, Toby Wynn-Davies appears to have been given free reign as arch villain Father David as his pantomime delivery and farcical facial expressions make him less of a man to fear, like Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle was, and more of a comedy crime boss, wagging his finger and snarling at the locals to do as he says but with no real sense of threat or menace, just a crackpot religious fanatic whom nobody in their right minds would pay any attention to. It’s the sort of performance that a local amateur dramatics society would love but in a movie it just comes across as laughable.
Abysmal acting aside, DOGGED isn’t so much an incompetent film as much as it is a tedious one. The worst crime any movie can commit is to be boring and DOGGED is just that, coming in at just short of two hours but never filling that running time at all, merely stretching out tension-free scenes of generic dialogue against a plot that, to use that word again, is as generic as it gets when it comes to folk horror. There are title cards that flash up between scenes to let you know what day it is, as DOGGED is supposed to take place over several days and, ironically, it does feel like you have been watching it in real time and once the final credits arrive the feelings of confusion, anger and lost time that Sam is experiencing during the unexplosive climax comes out of the screen in ways that the filmmakers probably weren’t anticipating. Overall, DOGGED is a monotonous movie whose only saving grace is that it makes a rewatch of THE WICKER TREE seem somewhat inviting.
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