Dogs Don't Wear Pants
Director: J.-P. Valkeapää
Writers: Juhana Lumme & J.-P. Valkeapää
Starring: Pekka Strang, Krista Kosonen, Ilona Huhta, Jani Volanen, Oona Airola
Juha has lost his wife in a drowning accident. Years later he still feels numb and unable to connect with people. Meeting Mona, a dominatrix, changes everything. Initial Reaction C. To get it out of the way, Dogs Don’t Wear Pants will face criticism because it’s not a horror movie like the marketing suggests. Though it IS a horrifying, erotic, heartbreaking, and beautiful meditation on loneliness. I could end my reaction here but that’s not fun. At a technical level the film is amazing with a great use of contrast between the two worlds that Juha (our protagonist) is balancing. Its environment feels lived-in and not just a series of sets used to make a movie. The artistic vision is impeccable, avoiding the trap of becoming pretentious or self-indulgent. However, the major credit has to go to its cinematic wonder of storytelling. At no point do any of the characters have to verbally convey what they’re thinking so we (the audience) can “get it,” and yet it’s all perfectly clear. As the synopsis says the story is about connection and finding someplace you’d never expect, so to pull it off without some on-the-nose dialogue is an incredible feat for the actors and filmmakers. While I found myself wanting to get irritated with Juha’s spiral into pushing the limits of safety, not just for himself but those around him, you also understand him. While the BDSM content might dissuade some from watching, the film takes the path less traveled in erotic dramas and provides little-to-no nudity and gratuitous sexual acts. Even the relationship between dom and sub doesn’t turn into a tacked on love story but rather a deeper understanding of each other’s loneliness. While there is a tooth-pulling that’ll be the standout scene for most people, it’s presented in such a way where this violent act becomes a piece of beautiful poetry. I really don’t know what more to say about this film that doesn’t feel overdone. For someone who doesn’t go out of their way to watch erotic drama (except Cronenberg’s Crash or a couple others), this is something I immediately checked the US blu-ray release to preorder. It’s fantastic, and my only two complaints are not seeing it sooner and knowing Finnish so I could catch all the subtleties that get lost in translation. J. First off, this film has a stupid title but it makes sense when you see why it’s called something so stupid. Second, this would be a terrific date movie. Especially, a first date movie. There’s a dominatrix and a bunch of S&M shit going on, although there is no sex scenes. See Juha, our main character realizes that if he gets choked out he has an experience of some sort of bizarre enlightenment that allows him to see his dead wife in the lake where she drowned. Once he has this experience, he wants it all the time. He becomes addicted to being strangled by a dominatrix. And like any addiction it fucks his life all up. Yes, all of this happens in this film. Juha has a teenage daughter and after a while I was beginning to wonder why the character was in the story at all. You may disagree but I felt the character could’ve been cut and wouldn’t have changed much of anything. It clocks in at 104 minutes too and I did feel that was too long, especially at the ultra slow pace this moved at. I will say that there were two instances that made me profoundly uncomfortable. One dealt with a fingernail and the other with teeth and I’ll leave it at that. This was an interesting film and dealt with a subject not really seen in cinema in general. I found it really amusing to think of this as a kind of Hellraiser prequel. Where the dominatrix and the people inhabiting the S&M club were all eventually turned into Cenobites. Having a cameo from Doug Bradley would’ve been amazing. K. I heard a little buzz about this Finnish film going in but really knew nothing about it other than the basic synopsis. Within a few minutes it was clear this was the work of a skilled storyteller. This is an intense character study in the vein of 70s cinema. Unflinching, bold and painful. After losing his wife years ago, Juha (Pekka Strang) is still frozen in grief, functioning like some kind of automaton. He works as a surgeon and keeps his co-workers at arms length. His teenage daughter Elli (Ilona Huhta) lives with him but he is almost never present with her, never listening, never really there. By chance he meets Mona (Krista Kosonen), a dominatrix, and finds himself drawn towards his pain. Through their violent relationship he is forced to confront his own grief. I don’t want to spoil anymore of the story as it’s better to go into this one cold. The cinematography and lighting are impeccable, lots of neon light and grit in expertly composed static shots. The writing by Juhana Lumme & J.-P. Valkeapää is immaculate, purely cinematic, the viewer knows exactly what’s going on without any character having to spout their feelings or motivations through dialogue. I wish I could write this well. It’s also cringe-inducing in the best possible way as we follow Juha on his descent into self-destruction, making one bad decision after the next. I found myself begging Juha to stop whatever foolish act he was engaged in and get his shit together. While this was essentially a drama, I will mention one noteworthy scene that was as horrifying to watch as anything I’ve seen in a horror film and that is the tooth pulling scene. And I will leave it at that because you will know exactly what I’m talking about after you’ve seen the film. There’s also a sly nod to Goodfellas in a certain sequence set to “Then He Kissed Me” by The Crystals. The ending was a pleasant surprise too. I really thought it was going one way, but they outfoxed me in a satisfying way. I have to admit J.-P. Valkeapää was not on my radar prior to this, nor were Pekka Strang and Krista Kosonen, but they sure as hell are now. I was floored by this film and I’ll be first in line for whatever comes next from him. I can’t recommend this more highly!
Response C. I’d actually disagree with Josh about the daughter’s importance. I think she provided stakes for us to hope he gets control of himself and she represents his connection to the “normal” world. Without her, why would we care if he totally lost himself in what becomes his addiction? As to not repeat my praises, my biggest concern comes from its marketing. While I’m grateful Shudder is giving this film a much-deserved international release, despite the world it’s set in, it’s an erotic drama, NOT horror. So I’ll plead with anyone reading this to take it for what it is and you won’t be sorry. J. I’m going to get put in my place for my stance on both the daughter character and the title and that’s fine… I can take it. This movie played out like an absurdist comedy to me where, even though Juha was in some kind of pain, be it physical or emotional and was largely cold and withdrawn, it was always a bit humorous in some way or another. In an absurd fashion. I haven’t really seen anything like this before, at least nothing from the past forty years or maybe Dressed To Kill but even that is only marginally comparable at best. Worth a watch for sure especially if you’re on a first date! K. I, for one, liked the title. It’s not uncommon in literature to take a snatch of dialogue from the text and make it the title, and I think it fits quite well here. I would also agree with Craig on his point about the daughter. She really injects Juha’s downward spiral with stakes. Their last scene together was heart-breaking. I’m thrilled that Shudder is releasing films like this, alongside the best that the horror genre has to offer. No, it’s not horror, but it’s dark and risky, and emotionally daring. If you give yourself over to it, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Bloodhound’s average score: 4 1/2 out of 5