My notes on Stray Dogs, out in the US on July 27.
This is an indie character drama – about the complicated relationship between contrasting brothers – that also has a mystic element and a suspense angle. When his beloved dog, who was rescued from a specific spot in the woods, is put-down, ‘indie video game developer’ Jeff (Skyler Pinkerton) prevails on his semi-estranged brother Travis (Tad Davies) to hike with him over a snowy mountain to that site where he intends to bury the pooch … whom he keeps saying was there for him when his family weren’t, though Travis – a divorced Dad who gives up a weekend with his kids for this quest – simmers in a way that suggests Travis has in the past been as demanding, difficult and wrong-headed as he seems to be now.
On the trail, they run into Angus (Adam Gascho, also co-writer/director), a guitar-toting, nose-ringed modern-day hobo who too quickly lies to a ranger (April Martucci) that he’s a neighbour of the brothers. Jeff impulsively backs up the lie, opening a wound with his brother – who has a literal wound, a limp caused by a ‘shot boot’, from this wrong-time-of-year trek – that festers as the trio play two-in/one-out games along the trail, between all-out arguments and moments of fireside bonding. The ranger has found a dead camper and naturally suspicion falls on the drifter – who has lost a G from his personalised jacket, which now reads ‘ANUS’ – even as things get a bit more introspective for the brothers, who start to question their own rigidities.
Is the stranger a manupulative psychopath? Or does something else go on in these woods, connected to the recurrent appearance of lost, masterless dogs in need of adoption. The three main performances are excellent and Gascho gets a lot of pictorial value out of the wintery woods/mountain, though the film is occasionally torn between the impulses to make a lean, taut wilderness thriller and a talky, play-like scratching of the scabs of family wounds. Very much worth a look. Co-written by David Cepero.
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