Where the Dogs Divide Her is the first feature from UK based independent production company Hunger Cult Films, run by brothers Martin and Andrew Rutley. Written by Andrew and directed by Martin, the film is a low budget trip into the disturbed psyche of a (possible) killer that eschews conventional narrative structure, its collage like sequences coming over more like the worlds within worlds visions created by David Lynch, an openly cited influence on the brothers work. Distribution company R-Squared Films have recently picked up Where the Dogs Divide Her with a spring 2011 release slated, no mean feat for an independent debut feature in these economically uncertain times.
Everard Fletcher (Jon Stoley) is the tormented figure at the heart of the film, whose tortured existence, interactions with ghostly apparitions, violent flashbacks and hallucinatory episodes are the driving force for an experimental exploration of memory, loss, murder and multiple personalities. The avant garde aesthetic, featuring an array of visual and audio trickery, flashes of animation and surreal, bizarre imagery is a bold attempt to portray the inner workings of its protagonists damaged mind. Fletcher’s investigation into his (now dead) families troubled past is open to various interpretations, as is the case in many psychological horror films or experimental cinema. The present day real world, purgatorial states and conflicting representations of Fletcher’s past are layered with minimal scripted exposition as to slowly reveal to Fletcher and the audience the dark secrets that lie at the heart of Where the Dogs Divide Her. This intense and unrelenting approach will either alienate or intrigue viewers, and its success hinges on whether or not you take its uncompromising style to heart.
Unfortunately I couldn’t get to grips with the film, finding nothing to care about or be enthused by. However offbeat or loosely structured a narrative, that narrative still has to be interesting for a film to work. There is undoubtedly many striking images and technically innovative sequences in Where the Dogs Divide Her, but these work in isolation as opposed to forming a cohesive whole. Many potentially interesting scenes have any tension or drama sucked from them by an over-reliance on an intrusive and frankly irritating soundtrack. Far too many films rely on filling every second with music or noise of some kind, it’s a counter productive move that dissipates rather than enhances atmosphere. Instead of being an essential element in the overall mood of the film many of the songs featured gave the scenes an air of being a series of music videos, I wanted some silence to reflect upon the story and soak up the often impressive visuals. Less is more in most cases, and some streamlining and restraint in all areas would have strengthened the impact of the film. I may be the wrong target market for Where the Dogs Divide Her, but I do like experimental, offbeat and underground cinema and it just didn’t work for me on this occasion. Not wanting to be too hard on the largely novice cast, their performances weren’t strong enough for me to care either about the characters or the unfolding tale. Instead of being gripped I was bored, a terminal state for any movie to induce, especially a low budget one.
Where the Dogs Divide Her will find an appreciative audience somewhere, and the brothers Rutley certainly have their own unique approach. I would class it as a sporadically interesting failure that does however showcase an eye for the abstract and unusual that over time, coupled with stronger narratives, could well produce something more memorable.