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New Release Review - White God

After being separated from his owner, a previously peaceful dog leads a violent canine revolt.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Kornél Mundruczó

Starring: Zsófia Psotta, Sándor Zsótér, Lili Horváth, Body



This Hungarian oddity opens with a striking sequence. A young teenage girl, Lili (Psotta) cycles through the deserted streets of an unnamed Eastern European city, an image that instantly recalls such apocalyptic dramas as 28 Days Later and I am Legend. As she cycles down a boulevard, behind her a large pack of ferocious dogs appears from around a corner and begins to give chase. The movie cuts to credits, leaving us to ponder if the Guinness commercial like images we've just witnessed were part of a dream sequence or a flash forward. Remarkably, it soon becomes apparent it's the latter.
It's a few weeks before this occurrence and young Lili is handed over to the care of her father Daniel (Zsótér) when her mother has to leave for Australia for several months. Daniel is none too happy at having to provide lodgings for Lili's pet dog Hagen, and when a nosy neighbour reports the dog to the authorities, Daniel refuses to pay the required 'mongrel tax'. Fearing Hagen will be taken away, Lili flees with the dog in tow, but her Father catches up and abandons Hagen by the side of a road. As Lili vows to come back for him, Hagen sets off alone, making friends among his fellow strays before encountering the worst cruelty man can inflict on nature.
The poster for Kornél Mundruczó's canine caper features a quote from an Evening standard review - "It's like nothing you've seen before." - and believe me when I say this isn't hyperbole. We've seen plenty of movies and TV shows featuring animal protagonists, but they've previously tended to stay very much in the kiddie friendly arena. White God however is very much an adult affair, featuring scenes of human on animal (and vice versa) violence that will give many grown-ups, let alone kids, nightmares. The closest movies I can compare this to are the Planet of the Apes installments Conquest and Rise. Here we have a Caesar type figure in Hagen, the mixed breed mongrel who decides he's mad as hell at humans and isn't going to take it anymore after discovering that man is far from his best friend. What makes White God unique is that unlike the Apes franchise, its canine anti-heroes aren't rendered through CG or prosthetics. Instead we have animal wrangling on a scale never seen before.
Hagen is played by a pooch named 'Body', and I'm not being facetious when I say its one of the best pieces of screen acting we'll see this year. Without the luxury of speech and with limited facial expressions, this method mutt ensures, through the subtlest of gestures, that we're always aware of what's going on behind its increasingly furrowed brow. The transformation from loveable mutt to bloodthirsty revolutionary is quite something to witness.
Its title a play on Sam Fuller's racist dog thriller White Dog, Mundruczó's movie is packed with nods to other cinematic classics, with a unique canine spin. During an impressively mounted chase sequence, involving some acrobatic doggy parkour, Hagen interrupts a sleeping woman like Cary Grant in North by Northwest. Impounded in a shelter, Hagen and his mangy mates stare transfixed at a Tom & Jerry cartoon, like the hobos of Sullivan's Travels. And in the movie's pivotal moment, Hagen is forced to indulge in an underground dogfight, a scene that closely echoes Spartacus (Kirk DOGlas anyone?)
The crazy scenario doesn't always hold together. Like last year's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, its human characters aren't half as interesting as their animal counterparts, but for having the courage to run with its singular vision, and the exceptionally nuanced performance of its slobbering star, White God is a rare doggy treat. Just don't show it to Rover; he might get some bad ideas.




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