Working within the horror genre is often a tricky endeavor. As someone who screens movies on a regular basis, I get to see hundreds of films and on average I see between 2-300 a year. That’s a pretty heavy undertaking for even the most seasoned of viewers. When I worked at a video store in my younger days, I used to rent EVERY single horror film that came through the door. My friends and co-workers used to ask me how I could suffer through so much nonsense. My reply: “1 out of 10 is superb, so good that it makes the 9 other bad ones worth it”. I’m sorry to say that with the more recent popularity of the horror genre, that number has gotten closer to 1 in 20. However, when you hit #20, I still think the juice is worth the squeeze. That is why I’m so thrilled to recommend Pet as your #20 (or at least my #20 in a sea of recent nonsense).
I’d heard some very positive reviews coming out of SXSW when the film premiered in March of 2016. After that, the hype kind of fizzled out and the film seemed to get lost in the quagmire of VOD and direct-to-video releases. Recently Pet was released on DVD after a brief and limited theatrical run, which is where this writer had a chance to see it…and I was not disappointed. The film is not without it’s issues, but what horror film isn’t? Even with that disclaimer I was very pleased with the twists & turns on this disturbing journey. I’ve heard other reviewers put the film somewhere between Hard Candy and Gone Girl. I think this is a somewhat fair comparison, but geared much more towards a horror sensibility. Both of those films also take a more cerebral angle, while Pet seems to go for the gut a little more.
Pet tells the story of a lonely and detached animal shelter employee named Seth (Dominic Monaghan). One day while taking the bus to his job, he sees Holly (Ksenia Solo), a former classmate of his. Seth tries to start up a conversation, and Holly neither remembers him nor wants to engage in a conversation. Although she’s (mostly) polite, Seth takes this as a blow to the ego. He’s not done just yet. Seth goes home, and with the miracle of the Internet, dives head first into Holly’s life. We’re talking notebook research here.
The next step for Seth is to show up at Holly’s waitressing job, where she yet again doesn’t recognize him. Since the bus conversation was only a few days ago, Seth takes this one a little more personally. He does his best to invite her to a “Ben Folds” concert, which he no doubt gleaned from her social media page. She tells Seth that she has a boyfriend to which he almost instinctively replies, “no you don’t”…red flag! Holly walks away without a word, but Seth isn’t finished with his courtship. Holly shows up to work a few days later to a large bouquet of roses with the card simply stating “Be Mine”. Holly thinks that this is her dirt-bag ex’s attempt at winning her back. She goes to the bar where the ex works and he has no clue what she’s talking about. Seth shows up at the bar and she YET AGAIN doesn’t recognize him. He asks her about the flowers and this is where Holly loses it. The ex beats the hell out of Seth, while Seth maniacally laughs through the beating. Seth needs to take matters into his own hands.
You know that thing where you love someone SO much that you want to cage them in a dirty basement and keep them all to yourself?? Yeah…me neither! Seth finds a rarely used basement/crawlspace area underneath the shelter and sets his plan in motion. He constructs a sturdy cage, and begins to learn Holly’s daily routine. Seth seizes his moment, and now Holly is all his. It’s at this point that certain details of Holly’s life begin to emerge. If you thought Seth had problems…just wait until you learn about Holly’s nightly activities. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn what Seth has seen while following Holly through the city at night. I won’t spoil the fun, but I will say that it’s not good or pleasant.
What then plays out is a psychological game of cat & mouse, where both parties have a lot to lose. Seth is adamant that this imprisonment is to “save” Holly. What is he saving her from? This is where the film really grabbed my attention. I thought I knew where we were headed until certain details are revealed about each character. These revelations were at times gasp-worthy, and areas I did not see us diving into. The cover of the DVD even calls it “a love story”. It is, but in the most deliciously disturbing of ways.
Pet doesn’t shy away from the blood and gore, but it’s not the focus or most unsettling aspects of the film. As Seth and Holly try to outwit one another, and get the other to see their perspective, this is where the true horror lies. I was invested in the story from start to finish, and the ending was just icing on the cake. I will (reluctantly) admit to gently applauding as the credits rolled…alone…in my living room. This is not a phenomenon that occurs on a regular basis, I’m not psychotic. However, when you’ve seen 19 bad horror films, #20 deserves some celebration.