THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Doghouse is available on demand from IFC Midnight
What is it with the Brits and their horror/comedies? Not that I'm complaining, mind you, but our friends in England seem to have a particular love for marrying bloody scares with silly laughs. Nowhere has this been better exemplified than in Edgar Wright's modern classic Shaun of the Dead, a film to which Doghouse will doubtlessly be compared. This newer picture, directed by Jake West and available on demand via IFC Festival Direct, doesn't hit the sublime satiric heights of Shaun, yet it's still witty and gory enough to be worth a look for genre fans.
The epicenter, if you will, of the story is Vince (Stephen Graham), a man depressed over his recent divorce. To cheer him up, six of his buddies - all of whom are a bit immature in the relationship department - decide to take him on a vacation to a remote village for a weekend of drinking and male bonding. In a character-introducing montage at the start of the movie, we see each of these friends callously leaving behind angry wives, girlfriends, or significant others for a chance to hang with the buds. They exemplify that most offensive and misogynist of masculine clichés: Bro's Before Ho's.
Given their issues with women, it is ironic (and, admittedly, screenwriter-contrived) that the village they visit was just hit by a virus that turned all the women into bloodthirsty, man-killing zombies. Now the only men left in town, the guys quickly become a target for the hungry femmes, and they have to use their wits to find a way back to safety.
Doghouse is a great example of what's often called a "shaggy dog story," in which a lot of set-up is capped by a ridiculous or meaningless punchline. For the longest time, I thought the movie was going to make some kind of statement about male condescension toward women, or about male immaturity, or maybe even about the way some guys fundamentally fear a strong woman. Wrong. While the premise is witty, the actual humor tends to stay at the level of Man, these bitches are crazy!
And that, I think, is really the central joke in Doghouse. It doesn't try to explain men or women, but rather simply asserts that there can be a natural friction between the sexes, which the plot gleefully takes to an extreme. Some might call this a cop out; I feel more like it was a willful act of subversion. The male characters are chauvinist pigs who deserve to have their asses kicked. The zombified females are overwrought psychos who need to be put in their place. Don't we all fall into one of these categories at some time or another? (Well, not you, Reader.) West and screenwriter Dan Schaffer seem to think this is the case. And so we get scenes where male characters are chomped and bitten and eviscerated, while the women are hacked and beheaded and set aflame. It's the war of the sexes times a thousand, and like most wars, this one is pointless.
Doghouse amusingly gives each of the female zombies a physical look. There is a bride zombie who gives new meaning to the term "bridezilla," and a hair stylist who constantly threatens the guys with a pair of scissors. Actually, the females are far more interesting than the men because they seem to have distinct personalities as opposed to the (intentionally) clichéd "male mindset" of the dudes. Then again, the guys are scrappy. In the central set piece, they humorously use items found in a toy shop to lure the femme-zombies into a deadly trap.
Is the movie itself indulging in misogyny for the way it gleefully asks us to cheer on these pigs as they destroy one woman after another? I don't think so. It's all a lark to the filmmakers - a comic acknowledgement that men and women are capable of irritating the hell out of each other and that there are victims on both sides of a gender war. Doghouse is in no way substantive, but it is kind of an enjoyable goof, if you're in the mood for such a thing.
( out of four)
Doghouse is unrated but contains adult language and graphic gore/violence. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.