Waldo the Dog (2010) – By Josh Samford

Let me preface this review by saying that nothing can ultimately prepare your mind for the assault that Waldo the Dog is preparing to assail you with. A mix of varying genres, a hodgepodge of ideas and a culminating examination on guilt, regret and the fragile state of the mind when enslaved to these emotions. Waldo the Dog is an American independent film that shares ideals with a great deal of foreign cinema that I have come across in my time. If you have seen the Japanese film All About Lily Chou-Chou, then you can get a grasp of the photography and feel of desperation, sadness and bullying that fully encompasses Waldo the Dog’s first half. Although each film deals with entirely different ideas and Waldo the Dog is slightly more direct in its narrative, the two films compliment one another as interesting examinations of a cinema vérité style. Waldo the Dog is a breakout debut if ever there was one and shows a tremendous young filmmaker who isn’t afraid to tackle difficult material and take some very risky chances along the way.

Our film begins with a clash of visual stimulation. The brutal murder of a man, the rape of a young woman by an assailant whose face we cannot see and the violent sobbing of a young man at the end of his leash. We read through a series of police reports and find that this man who committed this rape knew the young woman through the internet and ultimately started stalking her before the attack. We find the young man some months after the rape and he has forfeited his entire life. He is now homeless, is regularly beaten by random punks in the street and he wears a dog mask over his face. The mask never comes off and he now refuses to speak which further estranges hims from the public. His only dream at this point is to make it in the professional wrestling business. He panhandles and sells cans in order to afford his pro-wrestling lessons, despite the fact that everyone in his class hates him because he is a slow learner and often clumsy. While following the beautiful girl that he at one point raped, he comes across a couple of guys who follow her in a big truck. When the two attempt to assault and rape the young girl however, our young man beats them within an inch of their life. Without her recognizing him, she finds interest in this strange dog-man who has saved her life. The two begin a strange bond, but what will happen when she discovers who her dog-friend really is?

Do you believe in forgiving someone? An important question that Waldo the Dog asks the viewer at one point in the film and the central crux of the plot. Throughout the nearly two hours in length, the movie walks the borders of varying ideas and themes but ultimately everything comes back to forgiveness. Can this young woman forgive Waldo? After so much repentance, self imposed exile and self-applied affliction; at what point can Waldo forgive himself? Similar to the Flagellant monks who would whip their own backs until they were bleeding and raw in order to atone for their sins, you always get the idea that Waldo could remove himself from these situations or even defend himself from many fo the attacks that he is forced to endure but that would mean escaping punishment that he feels he deserves. A moment of weakness in Waldo results in months of torment and punishment for this grave sin. Although there are various interpretations for this film and some could view Waldo as a less likable character and there is no question that this man’s mind is completely bent, but the character motivations and themes that run rampant in the are so plentiful that it remains open for interpretation.

As I have already mentioned, the movie has a very simple visual style that tries to remain as realistic as possible. It never attempts to play itself off as a documentary, but the fact that there is a camera following these characters is ever present in many scenes. The light above the camera bathes night scenes in white and results in these very washed out but utterly beautiful moments. This is one of the best looking films of this sort that I think I have seen. Taking full advantage of several interesting, albeit simple, sets that were available for the movie to be shot in. This is one that although it is obvious that it was shot with very little in the way of a budget, the movement of the camera, the framing of the shots and the use of filters gives it a polish that radiates an intention. You at no point feel as if the filmmakers were going for one thing but their budget simply didn’t allow for what was needed. This may be a small scale movie, but it is obviously intended to be that way in order to fit these characters and this complex situation. Continuing on the technical accomplishments, the performances from the two key cast members are fantastic. Although it seems a bit awkward at first for an extremely beautiful woman such as Jaquelyn Xavier to so much as even speak to a homeless guy wearing a dog mask, after the initial bumps that pop up the actors really sell this relationship so that it becomes believable. While Waldo does not speak, the conversations that are held are mostly generated by Jaquelyn as Waldo mimes his answers out to her. The chemistry between the actors is really something amazing, that they could take such an odd situation and somehow make it work.

The movie has a few hiccups every now and then. It can be slightly confusing at times, but one has to imagine some of this is intentional and could simply be expressionism. Ultimately I really adored Waldo the Dog and I hope that this movie picks up enough steam on the festival circuit that it becomes a nice little success story. Young director Kris Canonizado knocks one out of the park and shows a tremendous amount of promise that makes him a filmmaker to watch. If Harmony Korine can keep working, Canonizado should have a tremendous career in front of him because I’m far more interesting in his next feature than watching Trash Humpers!