Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Doghouse (2009)

I watched Doghouse twice, hoping to find one brief moment where the filmmakers delivered more of a message than boys will be boys and women will be bitches. Yet, despite a few opportunities, that moment of salvation never arrived. And while I don’t think the film is misogynistic, it’s obvious the script presents women as the cause of all men’s problems.
The story focuses on Vince, devastated by his upcoming divorce, and his six friends who have chartered a bus to the village of Moodley. Not only do they have access to a house for the evening, but three quarters of the village’s population are women. The guys hope a night of drinking and debauchery with not only cheer up Vince, but give them a break from the overbearing women in their lives.
Things get a bit tense when their driver, Ruth, arrives. Neil, considered the misogynist of the bunch, is upset that a woman is accompanying them for even a fraction of the trip. Vince steps in to smooth things over and everyone heads out to Moodley (except for Banksey, who’s always late).
While driving through the forest surrounding Moodley, the bus is forced to stop by a slaughtered ram blocking the road. While Vince helps Ruth remove the carcass, cell phones start ringing as angry spouses and partners start calling. Neil, determined not to let the women spoil their fun, collects everyone’s phones and tosses them into the back of the bus.
(It should be evident that our boys are following every cliché from the Stereotypical Horror Screenwriting Guide. First, they ignore the ominous warning on the road. Second, any contact with the surrounding area is eliminated. And we’ll get to Number Three real soon.)
But it’s the deserted town of Moodley that might ruin the night. Ruth agrees to wait 30 minutes before leaving for the night, while applying drops to her suddenly irritated eyes. And, leaving their cell phones in the back of the bus, the group splits up, with Mickey checking on the house while everyone else hits the nearest pub (I told you Number Three was coming).
Mickey finds the house keys and a zombified woman, dressed like a bride from the Victoria’s Secret catalog, munching on a dog. She spots him, grabs an axe and starts chasing him. The rest of the group have abandoned the deserted pub and witness a soldier attempting to kill a woman on the street. After knocking the soldier unconscious, the men find themselves on the run as the woman, and a growing horde of zombified females, start attacking. Making their way back to the bus, the guys discover Ruth is now a zombie. Following Mickey, they carry the unconscious soldier to the house where, once they are hidden inside, the women wander away.
The revived soldier explains that an airborne virus, which affects only women, has turned them homicidal, bent on ripping men apart. Fortunately, the virus has also affected the women’s brains, making them less intelligent and focused, which is why they left once the group entered the house.
Without any form of communication, and unable to walk out with the horde of infected women roaming the woods, the men sjould stay hidden until daylight and see if the army shows up to find out why the troops haven’t reported in. Nope, they decide to make another attempt to board the bus (Cliché Number Four, leave a safe environment for some stupid reason). The women have other ideas and the group is soon running for their lives.
On the plus side, the practical gore effects are great, including a great split head and lots of random mayhem. The cast is quite good and director Jake West (Razor Blade Smile, Evil Aliens) delivers a fast paced film filled with some humorous moments. It’s too bad they all wasted their time on this rather annoying piece of male propaganda.
Be forewarned, I will spoil the ending of the film later in the review. One can’t avoid talking about the movie’s overall theme without discussing the final scene, but I will post a warning. And while some might accuse me of reading too much into a simple zombie comedy, you can’t avoid messages when your film involves one gender becoming homicidal towards the other. The very concept will force the scriptwriter to take a stance on the battle of the sexes and this is where Doghouse fails.
Okay, I still consider the women to be zombies, though the script clarifies that they are “infected.” But the women of Moodley look like a horde of zombies straight out of a George Romero film and a couple even spend some time munching guts. While the changes are never explained, it’s implied that the mutations occur later in the infection, as Ruth doesn’t look as zombie-like when the disease take hold of her. I suspect the zombie-like facial features are used to imply that the virus is incurable, thus justifying the use of violence by the men as they attempt to protect themselves. After all, they’re beating up zombies, not sick women. And as the women don’t seem to die, things get pretty brutal.
One could accept such violence as a part of the men’s fight for survival, had the script not portrayed women as harpies before the opening credits. As we are introduced to the men, each is dealing with their shrewish, emotionally abusive partners (even the sole gay character, who tells his partner that wives aren’t allowed on the boy’s night out). Whether left at the altar or criticized for not being more of a success in the financial world, every man in this film is under continual assault by a woman. Well, except for Matt, who works at a comic shop, and as we all know, movie nerds never have girlfriends. And Neil, who’s first seen pissing off a woman he’d spent the previous evening with.
As the men seek to escape from the zombie horde, some find their inner guy while others are symbolically castrated. The most blatant example of this happens to Neil, who’s captured by a morbidly obese, stereotypical housewife that amputates, and eats, one of his fingers. Such an act could be considered a simple gross out moment, but as most of the women are projections of the men’s desires and fears concerning the opposite sex, it becomes obvious the script is designed to appeal to fans of Maxim and other lad mags.
(This is your SPOILER WARNING. Feel free to skip the next 5 paragraphs. Or, if you want, catch the film on Netflix streaming, then come back and finish reading the review.)
Matt and Vince, on the other hand, end up hiding in a nerdy toyshop and start using RCVs and super soakers against the women. In effect, they use big boy toys to get the better of the women, who (if you subscribe to the movie’s point of view) would object to grown men playing with such things. But even in this sanctuary, Vince is cut down by the size of Matt’s squirt gun, which makes Matt no better than the castrating women, whether back in the city or in Moodley. So it’s no surprise that one of them doesn’t see the sun rise.
The final misstep occurs during the film’s climax, as Vince confides to his fellow survivors that he’s having a midlife crisis. He realizes that he, and his friends, became “domesticated” by acting as they think women want them to behave. And it was only a matter of time before the women became bored with them. “If they’d wanted a pet,” he wonders, “why didn’t they just get a golden retriever?”
Up to this point, the film could have worked. In fact, the groundwork had been laid to explore the dynamics between the sexes earlier in the film. In one scene, a zombified barber comes up behind Matt and gently snips off an errant lock of hair before acting homicidal again. Later, Ruth is ready to attack Neil, only to lose her rage when confronted by Vince. These scenes suggest the virus simply enrages the women and, perhaps, they act out at the model of male behavior they abhor. And Vince’s monolog is not without a kernel of truth. Men and women often conform to their partner’s expectations, or what they perceive to be their partner’s expectations, with disastrous results. For a horror film to allow a character to have a moment of clarity, resolving to never again fall in the same trap, is commendable. It’s too bad scriptwriter Dan Schaffer didn’t use these moments to comment on the behavior of men towards women and give the film a bit more balanced tone.
The closing scene destroys any good will the film generated to this point. Had the story ending with a moment indicated that Vince had moved on, acting on the monolog he’d delivered with such conviction, I might not have felt so disappointed and angry at the script. Not that we needed to see him (or the others) in another relationship, but just doing something he’d suppressed during his marriage. Like painting or poetry, anything showing he used that moment to come to peace with himself and become a better man. Instead, we are treated to the sight of him and his fellow survivors gleefully running away from an ever-growing horde, as if continual escape from screeching, man-eating women is the only response men have left.
(Okay, SPOILER OVER. You can read the final paragraph.)
As we all know, the best zombie films aren’t about the undead/infected, but human reactions to the situation. We expect the characters to argue and fall apart, allowing for the expected mayhem in the final reel, and we know it’s possible that no one will survive the final battle. Yet when Doghouse proclaims that men will always be forced to run from the collective horde of man-hating women or risk being eaten alive, I found it a more depressing ending than the original Romero film that spawned the zombie craze.