Pet, from the promotional material available to filmgoers, appears to be a suspense or maybe even a horror film about a man who traps a woman in a metal cage where one is left to assume that the twists and turns either lead to her death or her escape. While there is definitely a story of a man trapping a woman in a cage and questions about whether she will escape, it would be reductive to think of Pet as something simple. What the audience gets when viewing the film is a deep, dark exploration of the transformative power of love and the lengths a person will go to seek the good in another.
Pet stars Dominic Monaghan (“Lost”) and Ksenia Solo (“Lost Girl”) as Seth and Holly, two people living seemingly mundane lives until a chance encounter on a bus sparks a new passion in Seth that he had previously never felt for another person. He begins to try to approach Holly the old-fashioned way, by showing up at the restaurant where she works and subtly asking her out, but his awkward demeanor and quick frustration when she doesn’t really remember him lead him to become a bit more, let’s say, forceful in his pursuit of her affection. After another encounter wherein he tries to explain himself to her, only to receive a beating from Holly’s ex-boyfriend, Seth, having discovered an abandoned underground area in the kennel where he works, puts his plan into place. Holly is captured, Seth thinks he holds all the cards, but it becomes clear very quickly that he may have underestimated the person he chose to hold captive.
Pet does a great job of introducing new information to the audience without coming across as having done so only to have a new twist. The viewer tends to learn about the next new wrinkle that could shift the dynamic of the characters right around the same time that the characters themselves are learning about each other. When a film features a character being trapped in a steel cage for the majority of its runtime, this tightness of the plot is appreciated for its mirroring of the feeling that Holly might be having; trapped, at the will of the film to let us get the next morsel of the story. When the film’s 90 minutes were up, I was quite satisfied with the amount I had been fed.
For a film that focuses claustrophobicly on two characters, it is necessary for the performances of the two actors to be on point the whole time. Dominic Monaghan and Ksenia Solo deliver brilliantly to that end. The character of Seth starts out being a meek, kind-hearted person with no real friends or ambition and Monaghan’s light, airy demeanor throughout the first act is perfect at conveying this. Even when he is put into a situation where he needs to be stern, Seth has to rehearse what he is going to say and psyche himself up for it; great performance. Ksenia Solo is the real show-stealer here, though. She jumps between passive captive and aggressive power-holder wonderfully and believably. Despite her diminutive stature and pretty looks, the character of Holly is intense, dangerous, and deeply complex. Solo’s depiction of this disturbing character is outstanding. It will be surprising if she doesn’t get more recognition as a talented, multi-faceted actress after this movie gets a release.
The director, Carles Torrens (Apartment 143), spoke before and after the film about how this was, in his eyes, a love story and I believe that he succeeded in making sure that came across on the screen. While it isn’t necessarily about love as a coming together of equals, it is very much about love as sacrifice. Throughout the film, as more information is learned about who these two people are, the power dynamic of the two characters shifts frequently, despite one of them being locked in a cage. Seth is trying to prove to Holly that he loves her by attempting to, in his words, “save her” at the risk of getting caught, and Holly begins to understand what Seth is attempting to do and must learn to sacrifice the beliefs that she had previously held about how she interacts with people. There is a lot of nuance to the back-and-forth in which these characters engage and it is doled out so carefully by the direction and the cinematography, that one can’t help but truly enjoy this film.
Just like the characters in the film themselves, Pet holds significantly more inside than can be seen from the surface. Perhaps the only simple thing about this film is its soundtrack and score, which are subtle and appropriate, with no jarring musical choices and no cliché lead-ins to cheap scares. Pet, while difficult to describe as “fun,” due to the subject matter it deals with, is definitely a quality film-viewing-experience. The film synopsis on the SXSW site does a good job in the comparison to Hard Candy and Gone Girl. The characters aren’t playing nice with one another, but the audience won’t want to look away from the screen.