Pet (2016)

Pet first published by

Pet opens with a bobbing shot of a tropical island and with the sound of seagulls, only for those squawks to resolve into the persistent beeping of an alarm clock, and for the image to reveal itself as a large wall poster placed over the sleeping – and now waking – Seth Donaldson (Dominic Lost/Lord of the Rings Monaghan). In this feature directed by Carles Torrens (Apartment 143), and written by Jeremy Slater (The Lazarus Effect, Fantastic Four), the play between idyllic fantasy and harsher reality is established from the outset as a key theme.

Living alone, Seth follows a dreary daily routine: traveling by public transport to an animal shelter where he feeds the dogs and cleans out their cages for minimum wage, and where he enjoys a better relationship with those unwanted pets than with any of his human colleagues. But then one evening, Seth spies Holly (Ksenia Solo), writing in her diary on the bus. She is the unattainable dream girl he fancied in high school, and she does not remember him now any more than she noticed him back then. After a failed attempt to invite Holly – now a diner waitress struggling to move on from her cheating ex (Nathan Parsons)  – out on a date, Seth starts stalking her to the flat that she shares with her best friend Claire (Jennette McCurdy) and, after stealing and reading her diary, realises that he needs to ‘save’ her. It is a task for which he will use both an abandoned space beneath his workplace, and online instructions for building a large cage…

Guy meets girl. Guy imprisons girl in a basement. This might seem like a scenario from, say, The Collector (1965), Misery (1990), Boxing Helena (1993), The Keeper (2004), The Butterfly Room (2012) and Chained (2012), as Pet drifts, slowly but surely, from a ‘muttering man’ psychodrama of alienation and erotomania, to a hard seat in the ‘torture porn’ school of mid-Noughties horror. Yet fear not: despite being decidedly unhinged and a keen incarcerator, Seth is far too much of a romantic to resort to rape or any kind of physical torment beyond neglect, preferring instead to talk with Holly about her perceived problems. From this conversation emerges a dialectic on the nature of obsessive love, with Seth’s captive proving more than a match for him when it comes to madness (even if her delusions are of a rather different stamp from his).

“Look, I’m not some psycho, ok?”, is Seth’s reassurance, early on in Pet, when Holly has asked him if he is following her. Psychosis come in many forms here, and as these two characters negotiate with each other where one’s ideal ends and the other’s begins, Torrens treats the viewer to a twisted sadomasochistic love story where both erotic fantasies and horrific realities remain buried away out of sight, if not out of mind – and where a desert island represents only one type of isolation. The results are something much smarter and more disturbing than the initial premise might suggest, where in the end you will no longer be quite sure just what – or who – is imaginary.

Summary: This abduction thriller gives erotomania and psychopathy several new twists.

© Anton Bitel