The Movie Waffler Glasgow Film Festival 2024 Review - BLACK DOG | The Movie Waffler

Glasgow Film Festival 2024 Review - BLACK DOG

Black Dog review
Two teenage boys from disparate backgrounds embark on a road trip together.

Review by Blair MacBride

Directed by: George Jaques

Starring: Jamie Flatters, Keenan Munn Francis, Nicholas Pinnock, Ruby Stokes, Hattie Morahan

Black Dog poster

Ah the road trip feature, often providing such an opportunity to dive deeper into the characterisation of protagonists, to see what makes them tick and why they've ended up where they have. Less like the action of Thelma and Louise, Black Dog nevertheless packs an emotional punch.

Written by Jamie Flatters and George Jaques, this coming of age drama centres around Nathan (Flatters) and Sam (Keenan Munn-Francis). The former is a brash, rough around the edges type who has clearly been through some traumatic and life-shaping experiences in his past. The latter is the much more demure and quiet of the two, struggling with significant mental health issues that affect his daily life.

Black Dog review

The story sets off with Nathan departing the care system in London. Having become "of age" to make his own choices, he leaves his home in an attempt to find his long lost sister in Scotland with nothing but an old address and phone number constantly going to voicemail at his disposal. Sam, too, has his own problems; timid, suffering from anxiety and an eating disorder, he decides to visit his Mum - or so we think - in Newcastle.

The two individuals originally have their own plans on making the journey, but after a chance encounter where Nathan saves Sam from getting mugged in a Brixton alleyway, the pair are fortuitously hurled together for the trip North. Inevitably, as the two travellers make their way up the motorway passing beautiful scenery (the likes of which cityslicker Nathan has never seen), the boys begin to eke out one another from their built up interiors; start to bond via mutually experienced vulnerability from previous troubling times; and ultimately reignite a meaningful friendship.

Black Dog review

With Black Dog's story being pivotal on performances to carry its material, newcomers Flatters and Munn-Francis deliver some poignant portrayals of Nathan and Sam, with each one having the natural ability to ride the roller coaster of emotions created by Jaques' direction. Indeed, both young actors have a duty to convey the severity of their character's poor mental health, and Flatters and Munn-Francis deal with each relevant niche very well. Flatters, for example, focussing on Nathan's longer term struggle with abandonment shaping the person he'd become, but also Munn-Francis with Sam's shorter term, more reactionary ongoing battle with loss and the impact of his unhealthy coping strategies.

On a separate note, this film has a majestic composition to accompany the stellar performances. Blair Mowat's ability to put together an exquisite score really elevates a number of Black Dog's sequences, adding levels of grace, warmth and sadness at the most fitting of times. Just as it is musically powerful, so too are vast panning shots of Britain's countryside gorgeous to the eye. Not only that, but Hamish Anderson's cinematography in more intimate moments offers greater sincerity to particular scenes.

Black Dog review

Despite these flashes of brilliance, Black Dog does suffer from its own attempts to deal with so many complex emotional themes; with a run time of just over 90 minutes, there's a lot to communicate in such a short period of time. Sequences with great significance could have been given more time to develop naturally and, on occasion, certain crucial aspects of the plot almost feel sprung on the audience. On the same note, while different emotions are performed well by the film's actors, the roller coaster ups and downs are too frequent, making each high and low hard to process before the next comes along. This creates a lack of space for the story to fully deliver on its important themes of grief and isolation.

Overall, Black Dog doesn't have too much wrong with it for a project of its ilk. As a labour of love and debut feature for Jaques, it's a great first thrust onto the scene, harking back to the coming-of-age stage in life with which any audience member can resonate. That said, it just doesn't quite feel there technically due to a lack of natural depth in, and not enough time spent on, some of its more critical plot points.

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