Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Directed by Tammi Sutton
Starring Barbara Nedeljakova, Edward Hogg, Andrew Howard, Gwilym Lee
The British gangster flick collides with Giallo sensibilities in Tammi Sutton’s Isle of Dogs. Following a lightly fractured narrative, the flick tells the tale of gangster’s moll Nada (Nedeljakova), who plans to leave her abusive and psychotic crime lord husband (Howard) for her mega-quiffed toyboy, Riley (Hogg). On the night of their planned getaway, Nada finds herself trapped in her country home and locked in a battle for survival against a murderous assailant lifted straight from Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace.
Of course, a few twists and turns are offered along the way, but the identity of the killer will be exceptionally easy for most viewers to figure out quite quickly (not least due to the small number of leading cast members). Nada’s character is tiresomely one-note, resigned to not much but looking glamorous yet resolved while getting involved in a good helping of physical violence. As an actress, Nedeljakova is a strong leading lady and certainly kind on the eyes – but the character quickly falls apart along with the rest of the film, pushing the audience further and further away. As Riley, Edward Hogg gives it his best shot but never appears fully comfortable handling such a pathetic little man. Swinging from murderous rage to hapless blubbering right through to serial killer steeliness, there isn’t a single thing appealing or understandable about the contemptible character that he is, or his blind acceptance of the extreme nature of his situation. Any semblance of believability goes right out the window around 30 minutes into Isle of Dogs.
The saving grace of the film comes in the form of Andrew Howard as the aforementioned crime lord. An absolutely despicable bastard with a mean streak a mile wide, Howard does what he does best in painting a complete and utter psychopath for the audience while apparently having a ton of fun doing so. Considering Isle of Dogs, by the final moments, offers us absolutely no characters to connect with or care about (they’re all either so pathetic or so mercenary that they alienate), the rock of his performance is the only thing that manages to glue it together.
Stylistically, Isle of Dogs takes many a cue from Italy’s Giallo greats – plenty of primary colours, the aforementioned killer’s get-up, and even a severed arm that nods towards Dario Argento’s Tenebre. Sporadic moments of gore are surprisingly graphic and splashy — though it’s a pity the script doesn’t put as much effort into replicating the Giallo feel as the visuals do, with the final act devolving into an outright slasher flick – and a boring one at that.
The soundtrack to Isle of Dogs is shrill, pronounced, and at times almost unbearable. Cranked up to such a volume that it threatens to overwhelm even the actors’ audio, multiple protracted scenes bog down the pacing while assaulting you with a wailing cacophony of noise that you just wish would end. In fact, it pretty much sums up the entire film: You’ll just keep wishing it would end already.
More of a rag-tag mish-mash than a careful symbiosis of genres, Isle of Dogs is slow, boring, emotionally impenetrable and just downright tedious. Back to the kennel for this one.
1 out of 5
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