Crimson Snout

Crimson Snout (Quỷ Cẩu) (2023)

Crimson Snout (Quỷ Cẩu) has its international première at HÕFF – Haapsalu Horror and Fantasy Film Festival 

Middle-aged butcher Mạnh (Đào Anh Tuấn) is riding along a country road in the wee hours to deliver some dog meat, when his moped breaks down. Having gone to a small pond in the adjacent field to wash himself, he is pulled headfirst into the water by a clawed hand and drowns, even as the dead dog strapped to his bike comes to life, its eyes glowing a demonic red. In this prologue to director Lưu Thành Luȃn’s debut feature Crimson Snout (Quỷ Cẩu), introduced by text promising a work of fiction “based on the scariest spiritual horror symbol ‘The Bipedal Demon Dog’”, the film’s status as horror is immediately foregrounded – a genre which, in part owing to censorship issues in Vietnam, is relatively underrepresented in the national cinema, although certainly not without precedents. This is a welcome and assured entry, and although it is without question informed by aspects of Western horror, it is also very much a local affair.

For the first time in years, Manh’s adult son Nam (Quang Tuấn) is drawn back from the city where he is studying to be a doctor to his small rural hometown for the funeral, and brings with him his pregnant girlfriend Xuȃn (Mie), whom he hopes to marry. While Nam’s mother Nga (NSND Kim Xuȃn) is happy to see him, his aunt Thúy (Vân Dung), uncle Quyết (Quốc Quȃn) and Quyết’s wife Liễu (Nam Thư) are sceptical of this young interloper’s city ways, and regard his arrival as a threat to the family business. That business, previously owned by Manh, involves the rearing and butchering of dogs for food. It is a traditional practice in Vietnam which, as in Korea, is gradually being brought to an end by the encroachment of modernity, here reflected in the citified Xuȃn’s and even in local boy Nam’s stated aversion to dog meat, and is confined ever more to places like the remote backwater where Nam grew up (and indeed was reared on canine flesh). Yet there is another threat to the business and others like it in this town – for demonic dogs are also wreaking their paranormal revenge against those who slaughter and eat them, bringing entire families to ruin. As Tao (Duy Phúc, Uy Trán), who with his older sister Lài (NSƯT Hanh Thúy) managed to survive a similar supernatural onslaught on their family of butchers, puts it: “Run! Run for your life! You eat it, it will bite back!” 

Crimson Snout

As Nam’s family finds itself in a “‘consecutive deaths’ situation”, what is happening to them comes overdetermined. Firstly, there is what Lài describes as “the white dog with red nose”, a CG confection which appears, and also attacks, at least in the characters’ dreams, and perhaps also in reality, along with various grotesque canine-human hybrids (in a film that is, after all, about the shifting, sometimes symbiotic relationship between these two species). Secondly, a shaman believes that the family is in fact being haunted by the unrestful, angry Manh. Or thirdly, precisely those conditions which might have left the late Manh with a grudge beyond the grave can also furnish an entirely rational explanation for what is going on. For it might just be that this family is turning against itself for all the usual reasons that dysfunctional families so often do: petty squabbles, bitter jealousies, illicit adulteries and disputes over succession. 

The dogs might, as some characters say, be enacting karma. “You kill a mother dog, her puppy will come back to bite you one day,” as Lài suggests, “It’s only a matter of time.” Yet there are other cycles shown at play here. If Uncle Quyết, now become the head of the household following the death of his predecessor Manh, refuses to sanction a marriage between Nam and Xuȃn, flashbacks reveal that earlier Manh had similarly refused to let Quyết and Liễu wed – at least until Manh found his own use for Liễu. So Nam, an educated, urbanised new man, who helps Xuȃn with household chores contrary to his family’s ethos of inequality between the sexes, must not only face the evil within that dogs this family (and is embodied by Quyết), but also break a broader toxic cycle of patriarchy.  As such, Crimson Snout is all at once a bona fide horror film full of uncanny events, surreal spectacle and well-executed jump scares, and an allegory of a country in transition, trying either to reconcile its own past to progress, or else to leave backward tradition behind altogether for a different, better future. 

strap: Lưu Thành Luȃn’s dog-eat-dog horror gives barking expression to a dysfunctional rural family’s rapid implosion

© Anton Bitel