Monday, 23 September 2013

Doghouse - review

2009 (UK)


Contains mild spoilers.

I've seen Doghouse described as a creatively bankrupt Shaun of the Dead for the British lads magazine reading audience and undeniably misogynistic, pitting, when it comes down to it, six foul mouthed, uncouth beer swilling guys against a ravenous horde of mindless zombirds (not my word), all presented as comical one dimensional stocking wearing parodies of characters you'd expect to see on a primary school wall; and there's certainly some merit to the criticisms. I do think though that dismissing the film in this way so quickly, is perhaps all a bit too easy and might even be actually kind of missing the point and even the joke.

Vince (Stephen Graham) is having a rough time of it, what with his divorce and all, so his mates, all dealing with their own relationship struggles have arranged for a weekend get-away to the small rural village of Moodley where the beer runs free and the women allegedly out number the men 4 to 1. Falling out with their significant others and meeting up at a local London pub to start proceedings with a lager or seven, director Jake West has captured British lad culture of the thirty something's painfully and clumsily transitioning from single carefree boys to grown men perfectly. They arrive full of exaggerated camaraderie and a macho facade hiding their real insecurities and pains, and the film is just as much a character journey with the lads rediscovering the confidence and masculinity of their lost youth, as it a good old fashioned low brow action zombie one. Their misogyny is exaggerated and a show; the film really a satirical jab at a demasculinised young British generation attempting to be warriors again.

Arriving at the village the lads soon come to realise two things. One, Mikey's (Noel Clarke) memories of the place are quite a way off with Moodley being quite the small, run down little place with little to offer them and two, they might actually be in a lot of trouble. You see, the villages lady folk have all been exposed to a biological agent that has turned them into rabid, man hating cannibals.

Yes, they're not zombies. They may look foul, exaggerated evil dead-esque and zombie like, and they may stagger about spasmodically, grunting and groaning, but they're very much alive and infected. Looking for a test site, the military chose the isolated rural hamlet, put in a for-ladies-ears-only high pitched immobilisation speaker safety system, which failed, and spiked the washing powder. The result? A bit of an implausible confusing plot full of inconsistencies, and a lot of men being eaten.

If anything I actually enjoyed the build up to the lads arrival, and the between action banter a bit more than the quite derivative action itself. Doghouse is a true show case of British talent. As well as Vince and Mikey, Neil (Danny Dyer), Graham (Emil Marwa), Matt (Lee Ingleby), Patrick (Keith-Lee Castle) and Banksy (Neil Maskell) are all fine character actors and their exchanges are constantly natural, witty and well delivered. All the characters feel authentic and the way in which they deal with the horror; by screaming, panicking and running away, is comically real and what makes the film. The action sequences themselves, while full of great and excessive blood and gore are perhaps a little flat and overdrawn with the same zombirds doing the same tricks a few too many times. There are moments of originality and some interesting ideas but the main action when the lads are desperately looking for ideas and scrambling from one shelter to the next all feels a bit contrived and seen it all before. I'm not saying it's not entertaining; it's just you could easily get yourself another beer without pausing and not really feel like you were missing anything.

It's another infected like The Crazies experience. Of late I've started to relax and really question my early assumptions about what it means to be a zombie and while I agree there needs to be a little deadness to proceedings, it's how this deadness manifests itself that's got me pontificating. The ladies are clearly no longer self-aware, or cognisant and are driven by a primal insatiable hunger; their humanity, their self, if you want to call it that, is dead. They're mindless rabid automatons, albeit with a pulse. They're not zombies as Romero defined it but in the grand scale of things, especially if we look to include old Haitian voodoo slaves, they maybe are. I'll leave this debate here for now but I will say the make-up and prosthetic team have done a fantastic job meeting the design goal of having thirty odd distinctly identifiable weapon wielding gruesome monstrosities and whether it's the horrific scissor snipping hairdresser (Emily Booth) or the large and gratuitous Bubbles (Annie Vanders) they play their evil caricatures with menace, exuberence and authenticity.

It's a clever and ironic stab at lad culture and the demasculinisation of the British man, and a well intentioned authentic attempt at a gore laced zombie film in the evil dead tradition, or it's misogynistic load of old wank; it all depends on your perspective. Either way, it just about gets the comedy, horror, action mix right and if you're happy to not think too hard about anything that's happening there's a fun, competent, albeit juvenile zombie film here and plenty of laughs. One to be enjoyed with a beer, rather than a fine cognac or full bodied Bordeaux in hand; a blood drenched battle of the sexes with a Demons meets Shaun of the Dead vibe it's recommended, 6/10.

Steven@WTD.

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