Pet has been described as being in the vein of Hard Candy and Gone Girl. It doesn’t exactly have the wit or intelligence of those two films, but what it lacks in those qualities it makes up for in pure trashy fun. No one would accuse Pet as being subtle or high art, but as a one of the Midnighters at The SXSW Music, Film and Interactive Conferences and Festivals, it turns out to be the perfect fit.
When Seth (Dominic Monaghan, Lost, The Lord of the Rings trilogy), an animal shelter worker, runs into former schoolmate Holly (Ksenia Solo, Black Swan, Orphan Black) on the bus, he attempts to grow closer to her. After stalking her on social media to figure out her likes and dislikes, Seth eventually goes to eat at the diner where Holly works. From there, the stalking gets progressively worse and worse. When Holly finally rejects Seth’s advances, he kidnaps her and locks her in a cage he built in the tunnels under the animal shelter that he works at.
Writer Jeremy Slater’s two previous credits are last year’s Fantastic Four and The Lazarus Effect, so you would be forgiven for entering into Pet with fairly low expectations. What he has done is taken a standard stalker/kidnapping plot and flipped it on its head in a unique way. Pet starts out playing it straight, but as it progresses it morphs into a black-as-night romantic horror comedy. Slater and director Carles Torrens keeps things moving at a pretty brisk pace, and at 90 minutes the film doesn’t overstay its welcome. In fact, just when the film starts to drag during its third act the film draws to a mostly satisfying close.
Around the midway point of the film, the narrative takes a rather jarring turn when a secret comes out about one of the characters. To say any more about it would spoil the entire film and all of the fun to be had with it, but suffice it to say that that moment will make or break the film for many viewers. If you choose to roll with it, then you may find Pet to be the perfect midnight movie that you’ll want to put on late on a Saturday night with friends and plenty of booze.
Unfortunately the insanity of the second half of the film make you realize just how by-the-numbers the first half is. While it’s fun to see Monaghan to play this type of character, it’s not exactly what you would call compelling. The film relies completely on it’s second act twist and that’s not exactly what a film should be striving to do.
Monaghan is appropriately creepy yet sympathetic as Seth, but the real surprise comes in the form of Solo, who simply knocks it out of the park in a role that requires her to play so many different facets of an incredibly complex character. She imbues Holly with a steely vulnerability that when she is able to fight back in her own special way it takes you by surprise, yet still somehow feels believable.
If you try to read into the subtext, you might see a film with a message about people trying to change each other for the sake of a relationship, but it’s best not to view Pet with such a discerning eye. Pet is best viewed as a wacky horror romance filled with enough gallows humor to satiate the Coen Brothers. This will make the film’s more ridiculous plot developments easier to swallow and thus make your enjoyment of it more likely. It’s a perfect fit as one of the SXSW Midnighters and serves as a nice breather between all of the more highbrow films that can populate the festival’s lineup.