★★ out of ★★★★★
A Wicker Man rip-off with some surprising and enjoyable twists and turns. Directed by Richard Rountree.
Allegedly Dogged was one of the largest and most well-received horror kickstarter campaigns in UK history. It’s easy to see why. Director Richard Rowntree (not to be confused with Richard Roundtree of Shaft fame) had a pretty unique and clear, if not somewhat derivative vision of the horror experience he wanted to provide his audience. Dogged, from 2017, is an interesting, but amateurish take on the 1973 film the Wicker Man. In fact, if you’re looking close enough, you’ll see a copy of Wicker Man smartly propped up on a bedroom shelf in one scene of the film.
Dogged begins with a young man, Sam (Sam Saunders), who’s returning to his remote British island home from school under rather unfortunate circumstances. A young island girl has died after falling from a nearby cliff. Sam is immediately reunited with his tyrant of a father Alan (Phillip Rideout) who scolds Sam, humiliates him, questions his masculinity, and otherwise treats his only son like a pile of mossy peat. The entire film takes place during the week leading up to Christmas and Sam, our guileless protagonist, is reconnected with his teenage love Rachel (Aiysha Jebali) — who happens to be the daughter of the local pastor, and her brother is an incestuous pedaphile, and their mother is strange and overbearing shrew. Dogged unfolds like you’d expect a PBS Masterpiece Theater murder mystery to unfold..slowly and with plenty of misdirection.
As Sam settles back in to island life he’s reacquainted with the long-standing feud between the hippies, the puritanical island folk, and a lowly vagrant known only as the “Woodsman.” Sam eventually reconnects with his teenage sweetheart Rachel and they get IT on. They are of course being watched by the puritanical island folk and their dalliances quickly become the titillating talk of the town. Sam’s Dad is none to pleased, and Rachel’s Dad, the peculiar pastor, is having none of this copulation. Sam eventually stumbles upon the cult-i-est of cults. Complete with animal masks that would make any furry fan blush — this cult lead by Sam’s nemesis, who also happens to be Rachel’s Dad — takes a rather non-Christian approach to Christian puritanism. This all-male animal cult is judge, jury, and executioner. They kill all those who don’t comport with their provincial ways and then writhe in their blood. Apparently, this puritanical island animal cult is of the opinion that bathing in un-pure blood has a reverse and purifying effect. Sure.
Sam is befriended by one of the local hippies who hips him to the entire make-up of the animal cult and the real story behind the death of the local island girl. If I’ve learned anything from watching PBS, it’s don’t spend too much time on remote puritanical UK islands, and always trust the local hippies. They know what’s what. Sam and his hippie homie unfold the animal cult secret simultaneous to the local women-folk also stumbling on the cult’s decidedly non-Christian ways. Dogged ends in a rather interesting and satisfying way. It’s a light homage to Wicker Man, but it’s not the same full-on cult gut punch, it’s a more subtle, yet, devilish twist on its horror elder’s climax.
Dogged is clearly an amateur film. It’s hyper-saturated, there’s weird time-lapse thrown in the middle of the film, the acting is hit/miss, and it could have stood for a super solid edit. But the film has vision. Again, it’s a derivative vision, but it’s one that Richard Rountree sticks with and sees all the way to the finish. Don’t be surprised if Hollywood lays their greedy paws on Rountree’s vision in the coming years. The story and concept are thoughtful and deliberate, but Dogged just needed a little more scratch to see the vision be fully realized.
Dogged isn’t rated, but we’re going with a solid R. Dogged is available for streaming on Amazon, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play.