Dogged is having or showing tenacity with grim persistence. One thing first time director, Richard Rowntree, certainly protrudes is tenacity. Born from a micro short with a runtime of just 4 minutes, Rowntree had the presence of mind to formulate a script for a nearly two hour film, that translated to a stern and tenacious psychological horror-thriller that would make Robin Hardy proud. A successful kickstarter campaign made this director’s dream a reality, and Rowntree refused to squander his golden opportunity, tendering a script and film that will make genre fans very happy.
Much like the short film, we follow Sam (Sam Saunders), who has returned home to Farthing Island for a funeral. Upon his return he resumes an old relationship with the grouse preacher’s (Toby Wynn-Davies) daughter, Rachel (Aiysha Jebali). However, the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the young girl seems to be plaguing the psyche of the town folk. Sam somehow burrows down the rabbit hole and begins to uncover a bevy of nefarious secrets that sit beneath the surface of this seemingly quaint community. Soon enough, a seedy underbelly comes to the forefront and Sam must find who to trust and how to get out alive.
It’s important to note, that everything you see in this film was done for $17,000, which is a commendable feat, given how polished the visuals are. With a distinct BBC aesthetic, the cinematography, comprised mostly of a desaturated color palette that shifts to oversaturated during the very well utilized, jarring flashbacks, is quite beautiful. The majority of the film feels like a lucid fever-dream that Sam just can’t escape, which helps create a constant aroma of overwhelming unease. Each shot feels meticulously planned, as if Rowntree spent hours and hours of setup, which given budgetary constraints, seems highly unlikely. Instead it seems the director navigated his shot list with veteran grace, which pays huge dividends when viewing the fruits of his labor.
Dogged does some narrative gymnastics that spawn some creatively interesting subplots, but with so many strands, there is a concern that this may have been spread a bit thin. Sporting a laborious runtime of just under two hours is a bit of a stretch, given the original conceit was all of 4 minutes, but somehow the illuminating graphics, and the well manicured performances, particular those of Saunders and Wynn-Davies, will manage to keep you captivated throughout.
What Rowntree captures so well is the authenticity of the patriarchal structure that still resides in small town cultures from inland british communities to middle America. Working both as a metaphorical concept project and a genre based folk horror, there is a lot of depth to be mined from an ambiguous script, that banks a bulk of it’s story on atmospheric dread. Almost satirical in its portrayal of dogmatic faith, the seamless blend of typical genre fare and allegory to cultural stigma is impressive for a freshman effort. Dogged has a lot to say, and some of it’s message may be mudded in a delivery that meanders a bit in moments, but this is a formidable effort that exudes great promise for it’s crew.
While certainly not perfect, Dogged manages to keep you on the edge of your seat. Even when it feels a bit long in the tooth, there is always a moment of nightmarish terror to lock your interest. It’s clear from start to finish that this is a labor of love for Rowntree, and his painstaking efforts reward audiences with a vibrant visual medley and a well rounded script, that despite over-expository exchanges, still provides tacit moments. Dogged has presence and is a menacing, self contained, enthralling story with brilliant cinematography, strong performances and a focussed vision. The future is bright for Richard Rowntree, can’t wait to see what he does with a real budget.
4.2/5 EPIC BRO
Dogged is set for an expected 2018 release. Bro Knows was honored to have seen it on the big screen, courtesy of the incredible Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival.