One film that’s been the talk of the international festival circuit ever since it first debuted at SXSW last March is Barcelona-born helmer, Carles Torrens’ PET (review). The film follows Dominic Monaghan who plays Seth, a solitary outcast who forms a recklesly toxic obsession over an old school friend (Ksenia Solo) and ultimately cages her up and holds her captive underneath the animal shelter where he works.
When I first sat down to watch Pet, I have to admit that things got off to a somewhat overly familiar start but Jeremy Slater’s script soon starts slipping in curveballs of the very unconventional kind that I’m confident audiences won’t see coming. I’d also kick myself if I didn’t make special mention of Solo, someone who I wasn’t familiar with until now. For me, this is by far the best performance I’ve seen thus far in a genre film this year and it’s a breakout role (if you’ll pardon the pun) sure to guarantee we’ll be seeing A LOT more of her some time very soon.
Ahead of the film’s release, Dread Central caught up with Torrens to uncage a few details as to what it was about Pet that had him going beyond the call of duty to get the project (that had been in turnaround for many years) off the ground with him at the helm…
Dread Central: Dominic Monaghan has often explained how the script had been around for a very long time before it finally got made. How did it reach your hands and what was the potential you saw in there when you read it?
Carles Torrens: The writer, Jeremy Slater and I had the same agent and the script had been going around Hollywood since around 2006/2007. When I signed with my agent, he actually game me Pet to read but he told me that it wasn’t something he wanted me to read with a view towards making but simply to see what kind of stuff they were into and for me to get a taste of things. So I read the script and loved it and straight away got back and said, “Are you sure there’s no way I can make this film?” They told me that I couldn’t because it was set up at MGM and the movie had been in turnaround for many years so it would be difficult to get it out of there. But I loved the script so much that I set out to make it and found some investors in Spain that helped me raise funding to buy the script. Then, once I had it, I started going to production companies to see who was brave enough to make this with me and that was when I came into contact with Revolver Picture Company and they have a very down and dirty philosophy on making films and they have a very do it yourself attitude: Low budget; shoot on a whim; go, go, go. I really liked that energy and thought that was the way to go.
DC: Was Pet always set in an animal shelter? Was there any specific reasoning behind that location?
CT: When I read the script it was already set in an animal shelter but there were other things that I worked on and focused on with Jeremy. This movie had originally been a studio movie and MGM was going to make it for 40 million dollars or something incredible like that and we made it for peanuts. They were going to shoot it over three months or something whereas we only had four weeks. I’m telling you this because I realized we needed to just cut out the fat and concentrate on the main story.
What appealed to me most about this script was the really complex relationship between these very complex characters that is both really scary but at the same time really funny, and there’s kind of like an endearing element to it. What Jeremy and I talked about was really trimming the fat and focusing on these two people and where the relationship of these two people goes because that’s what the movie is.
DC: You once said that this movie is “devoid of moral stance.”
CT: Well I think the film is amoral in the sense that the message of the film is pretty terrible for people that watch the film. And I think it’s terrible in kind of a funny way because what this movie is talking about is so dark and so shocking that in order to make this movie I had to remove myself from any kind of message. Once you reach the end of the movie, you see that the way that it’s approached is all about playing for entertainment and that’s why I said it’s devoid of moral stance.
DC. I have to ask you about the cast, particularly as I know Dominic was really interested in the script ever since he first read it way back when.
CT: Yeah. Dominic had been attached but at that particular time he wasn’t because the movie was in turnaround. When I got involved with the project I had no idea of all that but then Jeremy mentioned to me that Dominic had once been a part of it. Funnily enough, I was a real fan and I had wanted Dominic for a previous short that I wrote that eventually never got made. Anyway, we reached out to him and I met with him and he’d been wanting to do Pet for many years as he loved that particular character. Pet had been written just after the first season of Lost so a good few years had gone by so what Jeremy did was to adapt the character to make him a bit older than was originally intended.
Once we got Dominic, we started casting for the character of Holly. We saw a lot of actresses and I honestly was not familiar with Ksenia at that point. I didn’t know her work. So all these wonderful actresses came in and they all did great jobs but this is a really complex character and I wasn’t seeing anyone that was quite nailing it just yet. I was then shown some footage Ksenia had put on tape, because she was doing a show somewhere else, and I was just blown away. As soon as I saw the tape I knew I needed to talk to her so we Skped and there was an immediate connection there. She got the character really well and then Dom loved the audition so I tapped both of them and we worked really hard on that very complicated relationship between them that we see on the screen and it really worked out well.
DC: Pet is very much a character-based story but there are some shockingly gruesome moments scattered through the film, especially towards the end. Tell us a little about your work with special effects wizard, Gary Tunnicliffe, who also had a small role in the film.
CT: I’m a really big fan of his work but he was friends with Nick Phillips, the producer. We were talking about how we were going to go about the effects for the movie and Nick mentioned Garry Tunnicliffe and I was like, “Wow. What?” It turned out that Gary had worked on Nick’s previous project, Primrose Lane, and I was totally game. He’s a living legend so I was a little intimidated when I first met when he came to work on set, but he’s a pleasure to work with and he was really creative and brought so many things to the table.
DC: Bringing things to a wrap, is there anything in the pipeline you can share with us?
CT: I do have a script that I’m developing right now, but of course, I can’t say too much about that, but it is something that could be either in Spain or in the U.S., depending on where I find my footing for that one. We’ll see what happens…
Pet is uncaged in U.S. theaters and on demand this December 2, 2016, and will be available on DVD on December 27. You’d be barking mad to miss it.
We’ll leave you with the latest trailer for the film together with the complete Pet press conference held at this year’s Sitges – International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia…