Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.
This movie's got a wee case of "try-too-hard," and after a while, it sort of runs out of steam, but there's still a lot of "Doghouse" that I enjoyed. I didn't care much for Jake West's first film, "Razor Blade Smile," and I haven't seen his second one, "Evil Aliens," but there's some good stuff in his new film, and it seems to me like he's come a long way in the last decade.
Basically, "Doghouse" is a standard-issue zombie movie with a twist: for some reason, the virus only affects women. West uses that basic idea to set up what should be a wicked indictment of the "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" culture that exists to seemingly drive the genders apart, and in the moments the film gets that right, it's at its best. When the film is "just" a horror movie, it's a little less successful because of the familiar nature of the material, but West is obviously a fan of the genre, and he fills the movie with little flourishes that keep things lively overall.
At the start of the film, Vince (Stephen Graham) is reeling from a recent divorce, and his mates decide they're going to take him for a holiday weekend in search of some dirty, uncomplicated sex. One by one, as each of them is introduced, we see how they are henpecked or compromised by the women in their lives, and how they use their friends as a chance to vent about their feelings.
The easy choice would be to make these men rabid women-haters, seven Tucker Maxes with English accents, so that when the women began to take them apart, it would be a clear revenge metaphor. But West writes the men as generally sympathetic, and the cast can't help but play it that way. In addition to the great Graham, the guys are played by familiar faces like Danny Dyer ("Severance"), Noel Clarke (Mickey from "Dr. Who"), Lee Ingleby (Sam's dad from "Life On Mars") and Keith-Lee Castle ("Young Dracula"). It's a solid cast, and the film lives or dies based on the sense of camraderie between them.
Where the film falls down a bit is in the actual horror action. Because it's a small film with a limited budget, West has a handful of hero zombies, and he spends the entire movie somehow keeping everyone alive so that he doesn't have to introduce new zombies over and over. There are a lot of close calls, but very few actual encounters with the zombies, and even when they do get their hands on the main characters, something always happens to set them free again until the last fifteen or twenty minutes. It makes the film feel like it's running in neutral at times, and West has to really stretch to make it work.
"Doghouse" was released in the UK this past summer by Sony, but there don't appear to be any current plans for a US theatrical run. Even with the film's limitations and flaws, it is fun, and I wish audiences would get a chance to get a look at it. I reviewed the film at Fantastic Fest 2009 in Austin.
HorrorFest 2009 runs every day of October 2009.
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