My first little taste of Fright Fest this year was Isle of Dogs, which I attended blissfully unaware of Robert Englund’s presence in the theatre, or of our own Oliver Pfeiffer’s nearby loitering. Upon entering I could only think of the rare delights that occasionally grace this celebration of all things gruesome, and only hope that Isle of Dogs would be one of them.
I began to have my doubts, however, pretty soon into the film. The opening scenes in open countryside instantly smashed my hopes that we’d have some urban brawl in the gritty environs of London’s Isle of Dogs as a geezer with a London accent screamed incoherently at some poor lad on the floor. As the scene escalated into a predictably brutal killing, I had more concern as lead actor Andrew Howard got stuck like a scratched record and repeated his angry bawl about 50,000 times too many. Things got no better as the plot unravelled.
It turned out Andrew Howard’s cockney character Darius (yes, Darius, I have no idea who pulled that name out of their ass) had just found out his Russian bride had been playing away from home. The trouble is, he’d gotten the wrong man, somehow shooting his own dog in the process. What followed was a bizarre, convoluted play for revenge that saw Darius hire someone in to kill his wife, and Nadja herself battle against all odds to survive and flee with her lover Riley (Edwards Hogg).
The exposition of the story is so poor that I suspect a young, colour-blind lemur could have done better. Several intriguing twists and turns could have spiced up a simple gangland revenge thriller, but each time a twist cropped up we would cut to a lengthy flashback explaining how this crazy revelation came to be. It’s slow, it’s boring and it ruins the impact.
Nonetheless, plot isn’t top of the list for an indie horror: imaginative gore is. And I have to say that this is where Isle of Dogs redeems itself quite well. There’s some limb mutilation, blasting of hapless bobbies into oblivion and a few decent fight scenes that have been semi-lifted from the Scream franchise. Plenty of these moments extracted some whoops of joy from the ever-exuberant Fright Fest audience, and more led to howls of laughter.
Looking at it in the context of an amusing romp with lost of blood, the film suddenly becomes less of a chore. Edward Hogg’s horrific mis-casting as Nadja’s lover Ridley leads to some ridiculously over-acted scenes in which he bawls his eyes out like a child while nearby Andrew Howard resumes his broken record act, screaming like a howler monkey sound effect stuck in an eternal loop. The effect has a painfully comic effect that has to be seen to be believed.
By the time the plot reached its ridiculous conclusion, I was resigned to sitting back and enjoying the absurdity of it all: which leads me to believe that there may be life in the old dog yet (sorry). But if you’re looking for this year’s Paranormal Activity, or even a passable horror with an entertaining plot, you should look elsewhere. If you want a straight-to-DVD melee of nonsense where a guy drinks bleach and someone’s arm gets cut off, step right this way…