“I’m going to save you.”
A great twist is not an easy thing for a film to accomplish. If all goes right, the film in question will earn the coveted “mind blowing” status — the audience will walk out buzzing, and will eventually take to Twitter to tell people “You’ve gotta see this movie! The twist will blow your mind!” If the twist doesn’t work, however, the movie might end up inhabiting the forsaken land so many of M. Night Shyamalan’s later films were banished to; a place filled with movies that elicited statements like “It was okay until that dumb twist ruined everything.”
Carles Torrens’ new thriller Pet has a premise that hinges on a twist, and it’s one doozy of a twist indeed. The good news is that it works, mostly, once you settle into it. The bad news is it feels, in part, like a cheat, and renders nearly the entire first act of the film false. The film succeeds, for the most part, due to the commitment of its performers, but it sits perilously close to a tipping point; one wrong move, and the entire film would’ve collapsed in on itself.
Pet begins like a modern-day update of John Fowles’ The Collector: a somewhat creepy loner zeroes in on a young woman to be the object of his affection, but that affection ends up being more like possession. After some awkward meetings, the man, Seth (Dominic Monaghan), abducts the woman, Holly (Ksenia Solo), and keeps her locked in a cage in the basement of the animal shelter where he works.
The stage is set for a game of domination and obsession; a tale of a possessive man trying to reduce a helpless woman into his own personal object. It’s about as icky as it sounds, but Torrens’ and writer Jeremy Slater have a few tricks up their sleeve, and neither of these two characters turn out to be who we originally thought they were.
Monaghan does his best as the somewhat-pathetic Seth, but the English actor’s American accent is too wonky at times, at some points slipping into what sounds like a clunky Robert De Niro impression. As the film progresses, the actor seems to become more comfortable in the role, and his performance reflects that. But it’s touch and go for a bulk of the proceedings. Solo, on the other hand, is quite extraordinary as the captive Holly. Revealing too much about the character would do a disservice to the film’s narrative, but suffice it to say the part is complex, and Solo is more than up to the task.
Filmmaker Torrens wisely keeps things cinematic: this is essentially a two-person-show for most of its runtime, and it could’ve easily turned into something stagey and static. Torrens combats this with dynamic close-ups and subtly off-kilter imagery, like a shot of blood slowly mixing in with some spilled milk. Because of Torrens’ direction, and Solo’s performance, Pet mostly works, but it’s hard to be completely receptive to a film that so cavalierly switches gears as much as this film does. Just a little more tinkering with the script to make the first act seem slightly more align with the rest of the film would’ve been enough to avoid this problem, but alas, it’s not to be. Pet is a partially clever, creative midnight movie, but it’s close to being so much more. Just not close enough.