WHITE GOD Review | Sundance 2015

     January 23, 2015

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If you’ve seen the trailer for Kornél Mundruczó’s White God, you’re waiting for the movie to deliver on the promise of a B-movie about a canine uprising.  So perhaps it’s better not to see the trailer for White God.  But if you push the marketing out of your mind, you’ll be left with a bloated picture that’s filled with unnecessary scenes and flat characters.  Unsurprisingly, the dogs steal the scenes, and if you’re like me and love dogs, then the movie will cause you to cheer their victories and feel pain when they’re harmed.  But every time we leave the pups behind, we’re left with a dull, sullen teenager.

Lili (Zsófia Psotta) loves her dog Hagen, but when she has to stay with her estranged father Daniel (Sándor Zsótér) while her mother is out of town, she discovers that not only does he dislike the sweet mutt, but also that the landlord doesn’t want the dog there either.  When the authorities come to force Daniel to pay a fee for housing a mutt and Lili gets in trouble for bringing Hagen to band practice, he gets fed up and abandons the dog on the side of the road.  From there, Hagen goes on an odyssey that leads him to some dark places.  As for Lili, she hangs out with a cute boy and misses her dog.

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Even if he wasn’t the most interesting character, Hagen is compelling by virtue of being a dog.  He’s adorable when he’s playing with Lili, and he’s heartbreaking when he’s separated from her and mistreated by everyone else he encounters.  But everything that happens to him on his journey could easily be abbreviated.  There’s a fun chase scene, but it goes on far too long, and it feels like it happens in a strange alternate universe where two dog catchers are going to run around a city to capture two dogs as if the animals were wanted fugitives.  It doesn’t fit in a movie where later on we’ll see a mundane event like a teenager feeling scorned by a boy she likes.

If there were some thematic cohesion or parallel between Lili’s story and Hagen’s, then the film might work, but instead it languishes with both plotlines, and while Hagen’s is more worthwhile, it’s too much to bear at points.  It’s necessary to show the pain he encounters, but eventually we just want to escape to something else.  We want to reach what was promised, but it turns out the promise comes from a completely different and far better movie.

[Minor spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the trailer]

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What you see in the trailer is the climax of the film, and sadly doesn’t represent the rest of the picture.  It’s a film where Hagen gets revenge on his abusers, and while it’s not quite the “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes with dogs” movie that I was hoping for, it’s still immensely entertaining to see a Hungarian city conquered by a few hundred dogs.  I almost wish Mundruczó had gone even further and made the film even more bizarre and outlandish.  If we have to believe that another species is going to band together in kick our ass, then there’s no need for half-measures.

[End spoilers]

When White God decides to become a B-horror movie, it brims with a confidence and personality that’s lacking from the rest of the picture.  Granted, this new tone requires the movie to detach from any previously established reality, but when the reality wasn’t that exciting, then perhaps it’s better to just go nuts and have fun.  White God is at its best when it decides to run free.

Rating: C-

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