MOVIE REVIEW: WHITE GOD / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: KORNÉL MUNDRUCZÓ / SCREENPLAY: KORNÉL MUNDRUCZÓ, VIKTÓRIA PETRÁNYI, KATA WÉBER / STARRING: ZSÓFIA PSOTTA, SÁNDOR ZSÓTÉR / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 27TH
It's the dawn of the planet of the dogs in this exceptional Hungarian film from director Kornél Mundruczó. Featuring a cast of hundreds of canines and some striking imagery of the beasts unleashed and taking to the city streets, it effortlessly blends powerful and emotional social realism with an ultimately hilarious dog apocalypse.
When 13-year-old Lili is forced by her father to get rid of her best friend and beloved mutt Hagen, it begins a story of horror and heartbreak for both the girl and her dog. Intercutting between the increasingly brutal treatment Hagen finds himself at the hands of, and Lili's descent into teen rebellion as a response to the loss of her dog, White God is a harsh Homeward Bound where the doggy star will never be the same again by the end of the story.
As Lili searches the streets for Hagen, the poor dog is at the mercy of some savage characters, and both Lili and Hagen find themselves exploited and desperate to escape their circumstances. White God then swerves violently into a wildly anarchic final act that is brutal, satisfying and absolutely hysterical in its level of horror.
The real star of White Dog is, of course, Hagen (played by two incredible acting canines), who turns from gorgeous innocent pet into a transformed mad monster. It’s heart-breaking and terrifying to witness the level of cruelty some men are capable of and Hagen goes through hell in the film. The animal performance is astounding from the desperation in his eyes to the wild fury and savagery he demonstrates in later scenes. Through all the chasing, taunting, fights and beatings that Hagen endures, it is clear that the dog actor was never really in harmed in any way. Even if it might be obvious to the keen observer that in the dog fighting scenes, no actual harm is being done, it never distracts from the horror of events as they take place. Rest assured dog lovers, you will be cringing and sobbing at the plight Hagen finds himself in.
The human drama is less involving but Zsófia Psotta is excellent as Lili, a reasonable girl caught between her civilised desire to play trumpet in the school band and the cruelty of the ways adults around her treat animals. Also solid is her father, played by Sándor Zsótér, a man who has his daughter's best interests at heart, but a devastating lack of respect for her canine best friend.
More importantly, White God comes loaded with subtext. From the holocaust inspired imagery of smoking chimneys, train tracks and concentration camps to the treatment of the mixed breeds by the government, White God works as effectively as a social commentary as it does as entertainment.
Despite how involving events are in the majority of White God though, it is the final act that is the stand-out sequence and the reason this film is elevated into something truly special. Hinted at in the flash forward opening scene, a slow motion sequence of hundreds of dogs chasing Lili through the city, it flips the film on its head and is at once horrifying, deeply satisfying and laugh out loud funny. Man's best friend becomes man's worst nightmare in this brilliant but barking mad set piece. With some spot on homage to The Birds, Jurassic Park and more, dog lovers will be howling in their seats at the catharsis provided by the final scenes.
Furiously entertaining with a perfect ending, White God is like 280 Dogs Later; an underdog story with some serious bite.
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10