Jake West is quickly becoming one of my favorite British” horrody” directors (that’s a word I made up for horror comedies, do you think it will stick?). My love affair began when I saw Evil Aliens (review forthcoming) and has now been cemented by his latest offering Doghouse. Where Evil Aliens was a splatterific sci-fi horror mash-up that simultaneously payed homage to and poked fun at a dozen or so movie conventions we all know, love, and loathe, Doghouse sees West moving in on profound territory, the same way that Shaun of the Dead saw Frost, Pegg, Wright mature in their ability to both stir up nostalgia and unbridled fun while coating their narrative with a unique sentiment about the nature of companionship, both friendly and romantic. West takes a more controversial approach however, borrowing some notions about the bonds that are shared between a group of 20 something guys, while pitting them against a village mostly populated by women that have been the test site for a particularly sexist government experiment that turns women in rabid cannibal zombie-types who crave the flesh of men only. Finally, a horror film without a “Final Girl.”
If you didn’t catch all that, allow to recap briefly the synopsis of our fair tale. A group of guys, who are generally at odds and different stages with the opposite sex, plan a trip to a village out in the boonies to help a friend overcome his recent divorce. When they arrive, the quiet village is all too quiet, and they soon realize that just about every man is dead, the military was recently present in the area, and all women have turned in fem-zombies who have a single item on their menu…men. It is here where West takes his first stand by managing to avoid the obvious misogynist jokes and tendencies by giving our squad of males many quirks and shortcomings which make their battle with the mutated lady things all the more interesting, and more importantly, hilarious. There’s a comic book store owner/nerd who sees this as an opportunity to live out an Evil Dead like fantasy about locking wits and weapons with the undead. There is a chauvinist who truly believes he is the universe’s gift to women, while all indicators point to the opposite, and so on. They are all introduced quickly in the opening montage, which shows in just a few seconds what type of guy they are. Once the stage is set, and we are all properly introduced to the players, the real fun begins. West not only has a wonderfully talented cast to direct (the acting is grade A, much much better than even I was expecting, and I already had high hopes for this one), but also a gauntlet of obstacles for them to overcome which lends itself nicely to some ingenuity as far as weapon choice and creation and some very intricate situational humor. I won’t go into detail here about the ways they navigate through the village while avoiding detection and certain doom, but rest assured you will get a few chuckles at the very least. The acting is prime, and the pacing is never dull, but if I have to level one legitimate complaint about Doghouse, it would be that the final few frames leave a little too much to the imagination of the viewer. It doesn’t ruin the film, especially since Doghouse isn’t a horror movie that is fixated on the finish line, it is instead all about the ride their and how fun that is, but a greater sense of absolute closure or…non-closure wouldn’t have been out of place for such a definite, grounded film. Still, that’s trying to find things to nitpick in an otherwise vast sea of general praise.
Besides being a fan of the interplay of horror and comedy (and being one of the recent masters of the trade), Jake West is also a guru of gore. Specifically, how to use gore as both a visceral intensifier of violence and slapstick style humor gags. There are times in Doghouse where the weak-stomached might go “EWWW” at a scene, only to turn around and laugh hysterically at another kill that is played off more like a joke. West really juggles this well, flip-flopping between the more light-hearted moments and the downbeat serious ones. His eye for angles and camerawork never gets in the way either, and his flashiest moments are in the first 10 or so minutes, when he plays with filters and stop screens for a while, before settling into observer mode without much interference in the form of trying to being overly fancy or stylish. The lightning, which looks mostly natural during the daytime and not overpowering at night helps to give the overall production value the sleek, slick, and professional look this film has from start to finish. As far as audio, I didn’t pay much attention to the score, but when it popped to the foreground, it never felt out of place, which is always a plus. Cars, decapitations, golf clubs and the like all pack an appropriate wallop and voices are crystal clear, which is a major benefit seeing as how almost all the humor is embedded deep within snappy conversations. And finally, the gore is great while not being quite copious as I thought it was going to be. When it hits though, it lands with KO force.
Jake West has crafted himself yet another winner, and the first real return to form for him since Evil Aliens. The British setting and cadence helps to give this twisted yarn about the war of sexes some much-needed levity and class, something that would have been rather unobtainable on my side of the pond. West is showing every sign of becoming a more dangerous director in the horror ranks, and Doghouse shows that he has incorporated more lofty ideals and concepts into his already exemplary understanding of the very core values and mechanics of our beloved genre. He can make you laugh, squirm a bit, and now he is even showing that he can even make you think for a second or two. Leave the lady friend out when you watch this one (who am I kidding, no one who writes for Midnight Showing or reads this drivel has a damn girlfriend).