Dogged (2017) UK Dir: Richard Rowntree
Sam Saunders,Toby Wynn-Davies, Tony Manders, Debra Leigh-Taylor
Sam (Saunders), a university student returns to his middle class parents home, a remote tidal island called Farthing to attend the funeral of Megan Lancaster (Abigail Rylance-Sneddon), the 11 year old daughter of family friends who has mysteriously perished from a cliff top fall.
Soon after attending the funeral service given by local vicar Father David Jones (a superbly menacing Wynn Davies), Sam re-encounters Jones’ disturbed son Daniel (a superbly off kilter and menacing Nick Stopien) and hooks up with his old flame, Jones’ rebellious daughter Rachel (Ayisha Jebali). Realising that Jones appears to exert some kind of hold over the town’s menfolk, including his outwardly authoritarian, but weak willed father Alan (a fantastically twitchy performance by Philip Ridout) and the local Doctor Donald Goodman (Manders), Sam and Rachel are drawn to a hippie commune whose inhabitants are despised by the island’s more ‘well to do’ natives. Suspecting that there is more to Megan’s death than just a tragic accident, they team up with one of the hippies, Sparrow (Nadia Lamin) to investigate further.
Revealing any more will mean plot spoilers, so I’ll refrain and instead, highly recommend that you seek out DOGGED for yourself. The film is the debut from writer/director Richard Rowntree’s Ash Mountain Films outfit, co-written with Matthew Davies from an original short film of the same name co-written and directed by Richard and Christina Rowntree, that was entered into BBC Three’s The Fear, a competition to find up and coming filmmakers in the horror genre.
Considering that DOGGED is a mini budget affair (it became the fourth most successful UK based horror feature film to receive funding from Kickstarter on 24 March 2016), Rowntree works wonders with fifteen grand, delivering a bleak slice of very British folk horror that bodes well for future output from Ash Mountain and for a renaissance in British horror in general.
On first viewing DOGGED appears to owe a very large debt to Robin Hardy and Anthony Schaffer’s 1973 folk horror classic THE WICKER MAN, with it’s tale of an alienated outsider in an isolated close knit community, a missing/dead little girl and strange cultish goings on. But it also has traces in its DNA of two other classic British folk horrors of that era; namely WITCHFINDER GENERAL and BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW. The film’s themes of religious mania, malevolent authority figures and outward hypocrisy masking a cold hearted evil seem particularly suited to british horror, drawing on the class system and our shared history of puritanism and sectarian conflict.The class commentary aspect is represented by the antagonism between the middle class, slightly incestuous villagers and the hippie community, featuring a scene stealing turn by Tony Parkin as Woodsman Jim, the town derelict driven mad by a long ago trauma connected to the island’s dark secret.
But rather than seeking to ape the style or look of the aforementioned films, Rowntree wisely treads his own path to give DOGGED its own identity, the cinematography drenching the film in bleak, windswept greys, browns and creams, and staying just the right side of making the film look like ITV drafted in Eli Roth to direct one of it’s kitchen sink misery-dramas.
Grounding the horror in a real world setting sans any supernatural elements is another aspect of 70’s horror that runs through the film’s bloodstream. Back then indie filmmakers were reacting against the stylised gothic melodramas of Hammer which by then were looking increasingly irrelevant in the era of Vietnam and Watergate. In our own time a film like DOGGED seems like a return to basics after all the derivative jump horror, bloated franchise sequels and tiresome paranormal found footage cheapies.
As a writer, Rowntree understands that the most terrifying monster is the fallen nature of the human condition itself, where monsters look just like you or I, and hide in plain sight among us. The script is confident enough to leave just the right amount of ambiguity about just how far knowledge of the island’s secret extends, and the direction is assured enough to make certain that Ash Mountain’s feature debut stands on its own alongside its influences. The creative passion and energy of both the cast and behind the scenes creative team really shine through, an once again prove that you don’t need a massive budget to produce something special on screen.
Based on this outing, both Richard Rowntree and Ash Mountain Films have a great future ahead of them, and indeed are filming their second feature NEFARIOUS (also crowdfunded through Kickstarter) as of this writing.
Of course the best way to support indie filmmakers like Ash Mountain is to buy the fruits of their labours, and I hope this review may go some way to persuading you to part with your hard earned and add a contemporary Brit horror gem like DOGGED to your collection.Let me know what you think of the film in the comments below, or alternatively you can find me on Twitter @thestrickenland or in my Facebook discussion group Movie Babylon.
You can also follow Richard and Ash Mountain Films on Twitter at @r_rowntree and @AshMountainFilm respectively.