03rd Apr2020

‘Burning Dog’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Greg Grunberg, Salvator Xuereb, Adrienne Wilkinson, Matt Bushell, Eddie Jemison, Adam Bartley, Chris Butler, Andrew Gilbert, Chris Todd, Johnny Dowers, Gary Patent, Hugo Armstrong | Written and Directed by Trey Batchelor

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For years video games have clamoured to make the gaming experience more cinematic. Which is now the reason we have games like Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, The Last of Us and Until Dawn – games that edge more towards the “interactive adventures” we were promised back in the full-motion video era of gaming (remember those?). But what if it was the other way round? What if films looked to video games for inspiration? We’d probably end up with something like Burning Dog.

Shot completely from the hero’s perspective, a la FPS video games, Burning Dog is obviously inspired not only by video games but by Hardcore Henry, the 2016 film starring Sharlito Copley, which told the story of a man with no memory and placed the audience – for the most part – in the shoes of Henry. Burning Dog takes a slightly different tact. Told mainly in flashback, the film is shot in a first-person point of view, as the audience relives a bizarre day in the life of a video game designer who stumbles into a blackmail conspiracy, clashing with contract killers, Russian mobsters, and compromised cops in a wild journey through Los Angeles.

As I said when I reviewed Hardcore Henry, it takes a brave person to put out a film like this. Especially when you’re working on a budget even lower than Henry’s was… But. And let me get this out there now. I absolutely LOVED Hardcore Henry, it’s the very reason I gave Burning Dog a chance. Seriously. You see sometimes there are films that just resonate with you. Films that, despite their sheer ridiculousness or adverse critical reaction, somehow capture your imagination and feel like they were made for your sensibilities. Now I’ve never been a huge fan of first person shooters (’cause I’m usually rubbish at them) – though I am really enjoying going back to Doom 64 via it’s re-release on the Switch – and I’m certainly not a fan of found footage films; but THIS style of movie, which essentially combines the two genres into one? Seems I’m a BIG fan!

Now with most reviews you can discuss actors and their performance, in particular the lead character. However here things are different. Given that this film is shot first-person, there’s nothing much to go on when it comes to the central character beyond the voice performance by Adam Bartley (though the character is actually performed physically by Chris Todd, who also produces). Even the characters nickname, Five, is ultra-generic. Thankfully Bartley, even just with his voice, gives a great performance, reminding me very much of the kind of voice over found in shows like The Wonder Years: charismatic, inviting and sympathetic. All of which work – even more than filming in a first-person perspective – to bring the audience closer to the protagonist and feel even more involved. Plus the rest of the cast is uniformally great – in particular Greg Grunberg and Salvator Xuereb as cops Smythe and Wesson (though to be fair Grunberg is ALWAYS a great watch, no matter the film or show).

What also helps keep the audiences attention is the mystery. We’re in the dark as much as Five is, thrown in the deep end in the very same way he is. And there’s a sneaking suspicion that not everything we’re seeing and experiencing is totally legit – it feels like no-one’s story, not even the protagonist’s Five, can be believed. Honestly it’s that mystery, the unanswered questions of Why?, Who? How? that will keep the audience watching, keep them intrigued, all the way to the climax of the film… A climax which has an absolutely tremendous denouement that left me grinning from ear to ear.

**** 4/5

Burning Dog is out now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital from Gravitas Ventures.

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