SXSW: “Pet” botches interesting premise

Charles Liu

It’s called obsession, but Seth (Dominic Monaghan) calls it love. He’s a lonely dog pound worker, and the target of his affection is his former classmate Holly (Ksenia Solo), now a waitress and an aspiring writer.

At first, Seth sifts through Holly’s social media accounts, learning her likes and dislikes, but his awkward attempts to take her out prove fruitless. He takes to stalking her – anyone can guess how successful that turns out.

So, as any sensible man would do, he kidnaps her and locks her in a cage underneath the dog pound. Charming, right?

The set-up, however, is deceptively simple. A twist lie in store for both characters as they learn more about each other, and gradually, it becomes apparent that Seth isn’t necessarily the villain, and Holly isn’t necessarily the victim. While the twist is delivered too suddenly and with a disappointing lack of grace, it nicely turns the “creepy guy holds pretty girl captive” narrative on its head. For a short while, director Carles Torrens and writer Jeremy Slater might even have one thinking they have a classic psychological thriller on their hands.

Alas, they botch the landing, and they botch it hard.

“Pet” explores the nature of love and relationships. Seth argues love is sacrifice, but the kind of love he expresses is unhealthy infatuation, fueled by his self-loathing. He latches onto Holly like a leech, and Monaghan conveys a pathetic desperation that makes Seth relatable, but not likable. His lack of self-worth leads to an interesting turn of events as Holly gains more power in their captor-captive relationship.

While Seth seems to think he’s playing a cat and mouse game with Holly, trying to see who has the upper hand, Solo’s unambiguous performance makes it obvious as to who’s actually winning the struggle. Holly’s supposed to be complicated and mysterious, but Solo makes her intentions obvious with each teary-eyed monologue she gets. For this reason, “Pet” lacks suspense and has an ending that can be predicted in broad strokes.

But at least Solo has range and displays talent. Holly’s friend is played by Jeanette McCurdy, who can only do two things: be sarcastic or be annoyed. In a pivotal scene where she’s supposed to convey fear and surprise, she can only blankly stare and speak with an out-of-place tone toward her present screen partner, Solo.   It’s a good thing she doesn’t show up often.

Strangely enough, after all its slow burning buildup, “Pet” just fizzles out. There’s no real climax, and just as everything comes crashing down for Seth, it just suddenly ends. It’s as if the film itself rams into a roadblock, loses interest in continuing and gives up. The great premise it establishes doesn’t get the ending it deserves.

That’s a shame because Torrens and Slater have genuine skills. The film has a strong creepy atmosphere and the dialogue itself is good. The movie manages to be fun in spite of its failings, and for that, its cast and crew deserve some measure of praise. If only it had stuck the landing.

Running Time: 90 minutes
Rating: N/A
Score: 2.5/5 stars