Dokument Films // 2005 // 92 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // August 11th, 2008
He's taking her home unconscious. Bad idea.
Someday, men in the movies will learn that keeping a woman captive in their homes, whether their intentions are pure or diabolical, will always end badly for them. Until they do, I'll watch in amusement as these guys have the tables turned on them and get what they most often deserve. from Australian director Kieran Galvin makes a strong stand in Puppy, his debut feature, using this theme and a mere $250,000 to spin a serpentine web of love, deceit, and murder.
Liz (Nadia Townsend) has freeloaded off her sister's family for long enough. They're tired of her lies and excuses and, after a long and hurtful fight, they kick her out onto the street. Humiliated and with nowhere to go, she decides to end it all. After parking her car in an abandoned lot, she attaches a hose to her exhaust and runs it into her window. Just as she's fading to black, Aiden (Bernard Curry), a truck driver happening by, stops and saves her from herself. Instead of taking her to a hospital for the help she needs, however, he takes Liz to his farm in the middle of nowhere. Aiden, as it turns out, isn't all that stable. He has mistaken Liz for his estranged wife and, to keep her from leaving again, he locks her down with a collar and has her monitored at all times by attack dogs. In captivity, however, Liz uses her considerable powers of deceit to turn the situation to her advantage. Soon, Aiden has become a pawn in a game of his own creation.
For a film that begins with such an uncomfortable family argument and follows with an attempted suicide, I wouldn't have expected a comedy from Puppy, but Galvin does an excellent job setting up the darkness of his humor in these first few minutes. From here, it jumps directly into the captivity storyline; Liz's sister never re-emerges, as if she was never there. Throughout much of the film, the setup seems like pointless exposition but, in an oblique way, connects firmly with the film's finale. Together, they create tidy bookends to all the twists that come in between. Any firm discussion of the plot reveals too much, but the humor and suspense always emerge from the situation at hand, build on what came before, and set up what comes afterward. Suffice it to say that the story works as a complete, satisfying package that leaves just enough to the imagination, but not so much that it ever seems like Galvin doesn't know the answers to the questions that come up.
Liz, a lying, scheming user who could care less about anyone but herself, awakens to find herself tied to the bed. She quickly assesses the situation and, realizing her damaged and dimwitted captor for what he is, knows she has options. Her deceitful wit kicks into high gear as she improvises her way, non-sexually, I might add, into more and more privilege. Aiden believes wholly that Liz is his wife and is easily manipulated by Liz every step of the way. From her chains, she quickly gains control of not only the house, but much of Aiden's day-to-day activity as well. In this way, as well as the general tone of dark wackiness, Puppy reminds me of more than a little of Pedro Almodóvar's fantastic Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!. The idea of controlling someone from a captive bed is absurd and brings into focus just how weak a will Aiden has. He holds all the cards but has no ability to play any of them. When the tables turn for good, Aiden has none of the options that Liz ha. She controls the house in chains and controls the house out of them. She owns Aiden completely and, in a position of newfound power, will let nothing stand in her way.
While the story is tightly woven and a lot of fun, it's the performances and sense of style that make Puppy as enjoyable as it is. Townsend and Curry are utterly believable in their roles as Liz and Aiden. We all know plenty of people of both genders like Liz, people who will do whatever they can to milk an extra dollar or an extra day's stay out of your kindness. She is disturbingly realistic in this role and, knowing how she is, her charming, intelligent demeanor would make easy prey of more capable people than Aiden. Aiden is an interesting character in his own right, no less deep but much more elusive than Liz. While he is clearly slow, he is capable enough to hold down a job and run a farm. He goes from looking handsome to insane in mere seconds. Both actors, whose sole presence makes for all but a few minutes of the film, seem to have been utterly committed to their roles and it shows. Likewise, Galvin is as skilled behind the camera as he is with a typewriter. During Liz's suicide attempt, as she is dying, the camera shoots her from above, through the windshield. The car is full of smoke and, in the haze, she is illuminated by a bright blue light. This angelic death brings to mind one of my favorite cinematic images: Shelly Winters, in Night of the Hunter dead in a lake with her hair flowing in the water. It's almost scary how beautifully serene this death seems. This is just one example and, while the film isn't stylistically flashy, it has many moments of real beauty.
Dokument Films, in conjunction with Netflix's now defunct Red Envelope Films division, has given a very nice presentation to Puppy, though one sorely lacking extras. The enhanced widescreen image looks very good with deeply saturated colors and good contrast. There are no transfer issues, though the image sometimes looks a little soft. The sound is only stereo, but there is still good separation between speakers and clearly audible dialog. I would have very much liked a commentary from Galvin to understand how he utilized such a miniscule budget and, more important, to see where he has drawn influence for this film .
Puppy is an excellent debut from Kieran Galvin. With its dark humor, intelligence, and an eye for style, this film could easily gain a cult audience -- and should. Puppy is absolutely worth a watch.
Not guilty. No Liz, you cannot come home with me.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dokument Films
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site