What starts as a sad story about a girl and her abandoned dog steadily builds into a horror show with echoes of "Cujo" and "Planet of the Apes" in "White God," last year's official submission from Hungary for the 87th Academy Awards.
Man, they make some crazy films in Hungary.
Lili (Zsofia Psotta) is having a tough time. Her parents are getting divorced, she's getting a little on the rebellious side in her 13th year, and band practice can be a bitch. At least she has her dog, Hagen, who manages to put a smile on her face and the occasional spring in her step.
When she winds up living with her father (Sando Zsoter), his apartment building isn't all that happy about having a dog around. Hagen eventually winds up abandoned in the street, much to the dismay of Lili, who spends much of the movie looking for her lost pup.
Life on the street is tough for a dog, and Hagen finds this out quickly as the film becomes a dog-eyed view of animal cruelty. After befriending a Jack Russell terrier, he starts running with a bad crowd of dogs. Fate leads him into the evil clutches of a dog fighter, who trains him in the ways of killing.
After hours of food deprivation, beatings and terrorizing, Hagen eventually becomes a killing machine. He's groomed for fight-to-the-death dog battles, where he makes his new owner some money.
Hagen manages an escape from the dog fighting man, only to wind up in an animal shelter. Like Cornelius the chimp before him, Hagen stages a coupe and manages to set nearly three hundred dogs free (The film apparently holds the record for live dogs used in a movie). Captors get their throats torn out as Hagen leads his giant pack on a mission of destruction and revenge.
Hagen is a handsome beast played by two dogs named Luke and Body, two canines who were destined for the animal shelter before the film company found them. The dogs look like they were put through the ringer a little more than dogs in American made films. Dog lovers might bristle a bit at the scenes where the dogs are antagonized into showing their teeth or dragged around by their collars.
When Hagen conquers his first dog in a dogfight, his performance is quite moving. Standing over his defeated opponent, the pooch definitely looks depressed and remorseful. He also has another moment looking bemused in a waiting room airing a "Tom and Jerry" cartoon while watching one of his comrades being euthanized through a door crack. If there were doggie Oscars, Luke and Body would take home the gold.
The dog apocalypse is quite beautifully filmed, with a huge throng of dogs running free in city streets, down public stairs, and over railroad tracks. There are some slow motion shots of the dogs taking over the city that are astoundingly awesome. I imagine that there were at least fifty people on staff to clean up after these animals.
It must be said that the pups look like they are having a total blast during the running scenes. How they get these dogs to all run in unison is beyond me (Lots of rawhide and liver snaps!). At one point, the dog carnage is shown with Lili's symphonic band playing classical music on the soundtrack. It's very majestic.
Psotta is a solid young actress who does a good job of looking slightly fed up with authority figures and plays a mean trumpet. Hers is the only human performance that truly registers. Most of the performance credits in this film have gone to the dogs. Yep, I said it.