A lonely employee at an animal shelter locks a woman in a cage when she rejects his advances. But she has a surprise in store for her captor…
Being a woman who loves the horror genre can be strange. Time and time again, I’m asked why I would want to watch those movies, since they’re so sexist. And yes, many are. But the truth is, I’ve always found horror to be a genre I can turn to for smart, ass-kicking women – both on camera, and behind it. It’s a space for subversion and boundary-pushing in which the repressed feminine can finally find some room.
Then you come across a film like Pet, in which a man keeps an attractive young woman in a cage, and the feminist in you inwardly sighs.
I didn’t have great expectations going into Pet. I was the only one in the theatre in a bustling neighbourhood of New York, so apparently no one else had any expectations either. But I’ll admit, it wasn’t long into the run-time that I found myself becoming engrossed. Because Pet knows all about your expectations, and will do whatever it takes to subvert them. Great, right? Well sure, but there comes a point when that can go too far and send the whole thing careening towards silliness. And Pet’s script just can’t help itself.
The film opens by introducing Seth, a nice but ultimately awkward and lonely guy, played by Lost’s Dominic Monaghan. We see how deeply he cares for the dogs at the animal shelter where he works, our first indication that Seth is not your standard animal-mutilating psycho-killer in the making. In fact, when he first encounters the woman of his dreams, Holly (played by Ksenia Solo, Black Swan), it’s easy to feel sorry for him when it becomes clear she isn’t interested. As his misguided attempts at wooing her gradually devolve into outright stalking, the film challenges our sympathies as viewers as we become increasingly horrified at Seth’s actions. In unsettling scenes that will feel all too familiar for many women in the audience, the unsuspecting Holly tries to shake off the creepy man who won’t take no for an answer, her politeness devolving into anger and fear, only to be followed, watched, and finally drugged and kidnapped. When she wakes up, she’s in a cage deep in the basement of the animal shelter. And under the howling of the dogs, no one can hear her screams.
To talk about where the plot goes from here would be to spoil the film’s more interesting turns. Suffice to say, it has some tricks up its sleeve, a few of which are genuinely surprising. Pet’s problem is that it doesn’t know when to stop. It doesn’t take long for twists to become predictable and even laughable when too many are crammed in for the sake of shock value – I guessed the last thirty minutes of the film long before they happened, right down to the final ‘surprise’. The power play between the two leads loses some of its impact when shocking revelations are delivered so jarringly that the characters’ personalities seem to change entirely within single scenes. It doesn’t help that half their dialogue is too on the nose to be taken remotely seriously.
Monaghan and Solo deliver solid performances with the script they have to work with – it’s just a pity that it wasn’t quite as a clever as the screenwriter surely thought it was. A slower-paced film with a little subtly and creeping ambiguity would have made for a more satisfying watch overall, but what we get is at least interesting. Some good acting, camerawork, and gore make this worth a watch, though I’m not sure I’ll revisit it anytime soon.
Throughout the film, however, one little thing kept nagging at me, and that was the problem of sexism. In all honesty, I would have been truly surprised if the film about the woman in the cage could have sidestepped this issue entirely and, alas, it did not. Interestingly, it was not sexist in the way that I thought it would be; I get the impression that the writer patted himself on the back for that, prematurely. The female lead is anything other than a damsel in distress, but it’s difficult to fully appreciate this subversion in a film which somehow winds up suggesting that Seth is in the right for caging a young woman he barely knows – without seemingly any self-awareness about the implications of that suggestion. Perhaps it won’t bother everyone, but I found it troubling. Though, given all the political punches 2016 has thrown at women, I suppose a few crazy with cages are the least of our problems this year.
Words: Samantha McLaren (@themeatispeople)