Pet

By Wilkinson, Gavin | Irish Gothic Journal, Autumn 2017 | Go to article overview

Pet


Wilkinson, Gavin, Irish Gothic Journal


Pet, dir. by Carles Torrens (Orion Pictures/Samuel Goldwyn Films, 2016)

Stories of captivity have become uncomfortably familiar in recent times, with names like Ariel Castro, Wolfgang Priklopil, and the notorious Josef Fritzl infiltrating the cultural consciousness as legitimate monsters, far surpassing those of even Stephen King's wildest imagination. Cinematic representations of such ordeals need to be handled with sensitivity, perhaps most successfully accomplished by Lenny Abrahamson, who directed Brie Larson's Academy Award-winning turn in Room (2015). The plot focuses on the aftermath of confinement, as a mother tries to integrate her son into the world he never knew existed following their escape after spending years in a garden shed.

Lately, the horror genre has seen several high-profile films grounded in diverse scenarios of detention, but principally structured as psychological thrillers. Key entries in this subcategory include Fede Alvarez's taut home-invasion shocker Don't Breathe (2016), which depicts thieves trapped during a botched robbery, ultimately discovering an even more disturbing incarceration. Alternatively, Dan Trachtenberg's 10 CloverfieldLane (2016) trades on the paranoia of imprisonment, as the protagonists survive the fallout of an apparent chemical attack in an underground bunker. Lastly, in a critically lauded return to form, M. Night Shyamalan's Split (2017) details the seizure and internment of three young women by a man with dissociative identity disorder. The girls must contest with their captor's multiple personalities even when, in a signature twist from the director, they take a turn for the supernatural. On foot of this comes Pet (2016) from Carles Torrens - whose sole other feature credit is the forgettable haunted-house yarn Apartment 143 (2011) - which anchors its story of captivity in the prison that is toxic relationships.

Pet follows Seth, a mild-mannered animal-control worker played by Lost (2004-10) and The Lord of the Rings trilogy's (2001-03) Dominic Monaghan. Seth is a seemingly harmless soul who lives aimlessly on the fringes of society with little in the way of meaningful human companionship - his job at the pound shows that he is more at ease interacting with dogs, greeting them as people and even comforting a dying German Shepherd. This characterisation of his life is accurately introduced in the film's dreamy opening image of a tropical beach. This peaceful establishing shot is interrupted by a beeping alarm clock, evoking the John Donne verse 'no man is an island', and establishing Seth as a loner about to be abruptly roused from his routine solitude.

On the bus one day, Seth recognises an attractive woman as a former schoolmate and now waitress named Holly (Ksenia Solo). Here, Solo's petite frame, silky blonde hair, and piercing blue eyes code her as an ethereal figure of delicacy and innocence, particularly when juxtaposed against Monaghan's unconventional leading-man looks. This is a significant scene in Pet in terms of exposition and cinematography, as it serves to calibrate the audience's perceptions of the characters; Seth's point-of-view perspective is associated with the 'threat' of the male gaze, which simultaneously emphasises Holly's vulnerability. Although Seth awkwardly tries and fails to arrange a date with Holly, he remains undeterred, and scours her social-media profiles, compiling information about her assorted predilections. This parasocial cyber-stalking not only modernises the dating paradigm, but its colloquial designation as 'creeping' further portrays Seth as a sinister outsider, who pursues Holly with flowers and unsolicited visits to her workplace, only to find his advances squarely rebuffed.

In a subversive development, Holly is revealed to have slaughtered her friend Claire - played by iCarly (2007-12) staple Jennette McCurdy - for sleeping with her boyfriend Eric (Nathan Parsons). Claire materialises intermittently as a mental construction of Holly's unresolved emotional baggage, returning as a devil on her shoulder to haunt her with the spectre of her guilt. …

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