– By Kriss Pickering
It’s often said that the internet is the greatest invention ever thought up. I mean, try and think of the times before it was engaged in every aspect of our modern life. Hard isn’t it? How did we ever cope without the ability to watch a monkey smelling his own farts on demand? Or how to find virtually any fact at the touch of a few buttons? And let’s not forget the advent of free porn(!).
But from a horror fan’s perspective, one of the biggest changes the information superhighway has brought about, is many websites that allow talented film makers to fund their projects via crowdfunding. For those of you not familiar, “crowdfunding” websites allow the general public to contribute affordable amounts towards a project, in return for “rewards”. It is through crowdfunding (Kickstarter) that director Richard Rowntree got his feature directorial Dogged funded.
Based on the brilliant short film that eventually finished fifth in the BBC’s cracking horror short competition “The Fear”, Dogged introduces up to University student Sam (Sam Saunders, who is making his feature film debut) as he returns to his island home to attend the funeral of a 10 year old girl, whose body was mysteriously found at the foot of a cliff.
Unfortunately for Sam, something is off about his childhood home. Something evil and bloodthirsty has come over it, and Sam finds himself unwittingly digging into its seedy underbelly. As events unfold and the pieces of the puzzle come together, he finds himself simply trying to survive in a world he never even knew existed.
The first thing I’d like to state about this film is how great it looks for the money the director had available. Dogged actually became one of the most successful horror films ever funded on Kickstarter, but even so, £14,500 is obviously not a lot of money to make a feature film with. But Richard Rowntree has worked a bit of a miracle as Dogged looked amazing and much better than a lot of the bigger budget indie fare I’ve seen lately.
A big part of why the film looks so good are the chosen locations. Filmed mainly on Osea Island in Essex and Iver in Buckinghamshire, the locations give the film a dauntingly isolated feel, and you can really imagine the waters around the island acting as the bars to their island prison. While the locations are great, it’s the amazing cinematography of Christopher Foulser that really brings them to life. His choice to wash out the colours in the “present day” shots really give the sense that there is something menacing happening, while the flashback scenes are bathed in bright colours to represent the joy and happiness of the characters’ youths. Together the effect works brilliantly.
But a film that looks amazing would be nothing without an engaging, intelligent story. Luckily Mark Davies’ screenplay (based on Christina Rowntree’s story), while running the risk of slipping into cliche’d ground, is solid and intelligent. For example, the island in question is a tidal island whose repeated cycles of connection and isolation would serve as an ideal catalyst for the residents to develop a classic “them against us” attitude, which can naturally develop into a cult like behaviour .
There is also a “Stepford Wives” feel to things. The island’s main village is an old school English country village, where well-to-do families have lived for generations in their barn conversions and there is a definite social hierarchy. The thing is though, the higher echelons are almost 100% male, with the wives and daughters relegated to almost servant like status.
While the story and cinematography is great, barring occasional flashes, the acting is at best “okay”, but this is to be expected with low budget films using an inexperienced cast. For example, Sam Saunders is solid as the leading man, despite one or two flaky deliveries. You can see that with some experience he could go on to be a decent performer and calve out a nice little career for himself.
As with the vast, vast majority of low budget indie productions, the lack of budget has to rear its ugly head somewhere. With Dogged, the film suffers from more than a few audio issues. It’s a shame as the soundtrack, which was created solely for the film, was really, really good. There were also a few amateurish camera angles, but that is to be expected due to the inexperience of Rowntree, and can be overlooked as the bloke obviously has talent!
To sum things up, what started as a very good short film has been turned into a very entertaining feature. Rowntree has shown he is more than capable of putting together a great story, with amazing locations and top notch cinematography, all while managing an inexperienced cast. I for one will be keeping a very close eye on how his career develops from here…