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See enough horror films and you’ll find it easy to believe that just about every home and business in America features a basement in which a comely young woman is being held prisoner. That familiar scenario is rehashed in Pet, director Carles Torrens’ (Apartment 143) sophomore feature starring Lord of the Rings veteran Dominic Monaghan as a seemingly mild-mannered, lonely man who resorts to a drastic solution to win the love of the object of his desire. Or, that may not be his goal at all.
The question comes up because Jeremy Slater’s ambitious screenplay seems determined to provide as many plot twists as possible during the course of the film’s brief running time. Viewers’ perceptions and expectations are constantly being upended, and not necessarily in a believable way.
Still, the film is engrossing, thanks to the director’s skill at delivering sustained tension, and the excellent performances. Monaghan plays Seth, an animal shelter employee who while riding on a bus runs into the beautiful Holly (Ksenia Solo, Black Swan), on whom he had an unrequited crush in high school. He attempts to makes small talk, but although Holly responds politely, she’s clearly not interested.
Seth soon shows up at the coffee shop in which Holly works, but she again rebuffs his advances. When he later shows up when she’s at the bar in which her clingy ex-boyfriend (Nathan Parsons) works, Seth receives a beating for his trouble, to which he strangely reacts with uncontrollable laughter. Before making his getaway, he does manage to purloin Holly’s diary.
Holly’s next encounter with her apparent stalker doesn’t go as well for her, as she winds up unconscious and is then brought to the animal shelter’s basement under the nose of Seth’s security guard colleague (Da’Vone McDonald). There she’s confined in a small cage, clad only in her underwear, with Seth telling her that he intends to “save” her.
The resulting cat-and-mouse game reveals more of an insidious power struggle than it initially appeared. Suffice it to say that some characters meet horrific fates and others, including Holly’s supportive best friend (Jennette McCurdy), are not quite who they seem.
While Slater’s script is overly manipulative — he can’t even resist one last climactic shock — the lead performers manage to sell it. Monaghan provides interesting variations on what could have been a stock sicko character, while Solo is compelling as the victim who proves more than a match for her captor. Pet is unlikely to cross over to general audiences, but it’s bound to satisfy fans of more extreme horror.
Production: Magic Lantern, Revolver Picture Company
Distributor: Orion Pictures, Samuel Goldwyn Films
Cast: Dominic Monaghan, Ksenia Solo, Jennette McCurdy, Nathan Parsons
Director: Carles Torrens
Screenwriter: Jeremy Slater
Producers: Nick Phillips, Kelly Martin Wagner, Carles Torrens
Executive producer: Sean Gowrie
Director of photography: Timothy A. Burton
Production designer: Krystyna Loboda
Editor: Elena Ruiz
Costume designer: Olivia Miles
Composer: Zacarias M. de la Riva
Casting: Dominika Posseren, Janelle Scuderi
Rated R, 94 minutes
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