|'Torrens simply becomes more and more unsure of where he and his film are heading, circling around a few ideas but ultimately going nowhere'.|
Comparisons have been made between Pet and David Slade's 2005 film Hard Candy, and in many ways it's not all that hard to see why. The two films share some plot and thematic elements as well as attempting to subvert both the audience's expectations of their characters and of specific horror tropes. The difference is in their execution: where Slade's film did so as a slick and well-constructed indie, director Carlos Torrens rarely manages to make Pet into anything more than a muddled and amateurish piece of cinema.
A key source of the film's issues is the script from Jeremy Slater, who teamed up with Josh Trank to write the screenplay for last year's poorly received Fantastic Four reboot. Unfortunately, the problems seen in that film are also evident here. An early in a bar between Holly (Ksenia Solo) and her ex-boyfriend Eric (Nathan Parsons) is awash with clichéd dialogue, hindered further by the unconvincing performances by both actors. Dominic Monaghan as creepy stalker Seth is better, but again is given too little to work with from Slater.
After a disappointing start, Pet does improve during its middle act. Monaghan is given further opportunities to develop Seth and Solo improves as well, particularly following a mid-film revelation about her character likely to provide genuine surprise. The interplay between Holly and Seth, and the relationship that develops as the balance of power shifts back and forth between them, is the main focus and provides many of the film's redeeming moments.
Without a solid narrative to surround the central pair, however, Torrens simply becomes more and more unsure of where he and his film are heading, circling around a few ideas but ultimately going nowhere. A gruesome pivotal event in Seth and Holly's increasingly warped mind games against each other at the end of the second act initially offers some hope for a satisfying climax, but instead Pet becomes even more unfocused and unsatisfying. Scenes of torture-porn-style mutilation feel gratuitous, offering nothing to the characters or plot other than further confusion. A police investigation thread is introduced late on but dropped again after only a couple of scenes, frustratingly going nowhere.
It's in the finale that the film completely falls apart, however. Several plot points are left dangling, presumably because Slater couldn't be bothered to tie up the many loose ends he's created, and there's virtually no explanation during the the coda-like final scenes of how the film moves from one state of affairs to another. Anything of worth within Pet comes from the performances of Monaghan and Solo beyond the first act, and the commendable attempt to switch things up from what you might expect, but in all honesty it's never enough to rescue the film from its many problems elswhere.
Pet plays LIFF30 again on Monday 7th November at 15.30 at Leeds Town Hall.
The 30th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 3rd-17th November 2016 at thirty venues across the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.