There’s nothing worse than a movie falling apart at the last minute – wait, yes there is. What about a movie that falls apart way sooner? A movie like Pet that begins stumbling over itself only halfway in, eventually landing a final blow of discombobulated trickery without a single root remaining tethered to story. Twists are twists because you flip a theme or concept on its head AFTER establishing coherency, not because you jump from Point A to Point B without reason. The mightiest flaw of this abduction hall-of-mirrors is never anticipating how ripple effects might reverberate off plotted actions, too caged in its own concept to see a bigger, less conceptualized picture.
Dominic Monaghan stars as Seth, an awkward loner who bumps into a high school crush years later. The girl – beautiful Holly (Ksenia Solo) – doesn’t remember Seth from school, or from their bus ride conversation, or again at a bar. Seth tries his hardest to win Holly over by cyber-stalking her social media for likes and dislikes, but she finds his obsession creepy (for some reason). This is when a heartbroken Seth decides to take advantage of an empty basement under the dog shelter where he works, which he fits with a custom cage. One thing leads to another, and Holly finds herself locked up by Seth so he can save her (as he proclaims). Save her from what, you ask? Seth? Nah, the capture is just the beginning.
Jeremy Slater’s screenplay gets credit for attempting kidnapper thrills through unexpected genre subversions, but his handling of “twists” becomes a thoughtless nuisance. Redirections in story are never woven into ongoing plot material, instead wedged in as a brash disruption. It’s not overwhelming at first, but as obvious shocks gradually become more and more nonsensical, the film’s grand finale unwinds whatever chilling escapism some might have found.
It’s a trademark “one scene too far” scenario that ignores numerous roadblocks that surely would have prevented such an end, and distorts a larger message about romantic salvation. Maybe Seth is a sad, lonely lunatic, or maybe Holly is a deranged nutjob with a dark secret. That’s the constant game at play, except an answer is revealed far, FAR too early.
Monaghan’s grating accent (is “creepy guy” a dialect?) doesn’t add much by way of performance power, but Solo’s slow-burn Harley Quinn transformation does make for a few cackles and psychotic seduction. Nickelodeon fans will be disappointed by Jennette McCurdy’s support-only role, but they’ll soon forget once Solo’s cage dances turn from cowering to confident. Her crazy level may be heightened a bit too far, but hallucinations and dual personalities make for more than just another Captivity ripoff.
The film’s most cringe-worthy moments do come from Monaghan’s lame, embarrassing pickup attempts whenever Seth relies on his stalker charms, yet most entertainment worth appreciating comes from Solo’s ability to dominate her captor from behind steel bars. Seth goes on and on about “saving” the love of his life, but he’s the one who needs saving from her emotional, physical and sexual control – something he struggles with mightily, thanks to Monaghan’s ability to always remain woefully blindsided. At times we assume Seth is about to get what he wants, only to have desire brushed aside once more.
Care is put into utilizing all the most gruesome details of the doggy shelter Seth works in, but so much is left to our belief that characters are dumb as bricks. Holly is stashed in a basement room inside the animal complex that no other worker uses (seriously, not one), never revealing her position (for the most part). Days go by where Seth doesn’t do his job, abandoning cleaning duties and daily upkeep with little consequence. Then when a chance occurrence finally brings upon death, Seth cleans the mess up without attracting any attention. Not even a confused look. It’s like the world revolves around Seth, bending to his highly illegal, twisted attempt at “helping a friend.” So much rests on our abandonment of reality, but director Carles Torrens is never able to seduce the B-move vibe he so coyly teases – and we’re left with middling in-between-ness.
Pet is scariest when exploiting our social fears of being rejected, and at its worst when playing some psychological switcheroo in a Saw-like basement. Unfortunately for us, most of the film takes place in said underground dankness, without paying much attention to its own developing plot points. Why bother explaining how situational magic happens when you can just fade to black and leave people guessing, right? Sound like a good plan? Nah – and there’s nothing Monoghan’s drawl or Solo’s broken sanity can do about it.
If you can't respect your audience enough to connect obvious plot items, they surely won't respect you back.