As technology increasingly comes to dominate our daily lives, it should come as no surprise that the stories we tell become more concerned with ubiquitous apps. In recent years, “AirBnB horror” has come to supplant the venerable cabin-in-the-woods– see Barbarian, The Rental, You Should Have Left, and countless others I’m sure I’m forgetting. Likewise, the Tinder Horror Story is so culturally ubiquitous that it exists beyond the realm of horror itself; seemingly everyone who’s ever used a dating app has a catalog of real-life nightmares they can relate. Dating apps, after all, surpass even the venerable “killer hitchhiker” story as a delivery service for madmen, providing a natural excuse for a modern final girl to get too close to a crazed killer. The trick, of course, is going so far beyond the pale that your horror movie surpasses the stories of your audience.
It’s probably safe to say that Good Boy, the twisted new horror movie from Norwegian filmmaker Viljar Bøe represents a level of insanity that even the most hardened veteran of the dating wars has yet to experience (god willing). Grad student Sigrid (Katrine Lovise Øpstad Fredriksen) is clearly approaching desperation when she “supermatches” with Christian (Gard Løkke). Christian at first appears to represent a dating-app white whale: a dashing, humble bachelor who lives alone in a sprawling estate and dotes upon his beloved dog, Frank. The catch– wouldn’t you know it?– is that Frank is not a “dog” in the traditionally accepted sense, but rather a grown human man in a fursuit who, by all appearances, chooses to live his life as Christian’s canine companion. Sigrid is naturally taken aback, but tries to keep an open mind– especially when she learns that her Prince Charming is actually the famous heir to a vast fortune. I probably don’t need to tell you, however, that things take a sinister turn, and when the three of them embark for a long weekend at Christian’s summer home it becomes clear that this man’s-best-friend arrangement is (even) stranger than it appears.
Good Boy is at its best when it revels in the dark absurdity of its premise and the uncanniness of its central image. Where most films would save Frank’s reveal for a first-act twist, Bøe introduces his title character right out of the gate with a series of wordless, nearly prosaic scenes of Christian and Frank’s daily routine. Frank’s formless plush bodysuit and too-detailed facemask could never pass for canine in a local dog park, but the matter-of-factness with which the two actors play their scenes almost succeeds in convincing us their arrangement is “normal.” It’s such a wonderful mix of eerie horror and deadpan physical comedy that one almost wishes the film stayed in this mode for the duration; when your premise is this effectively creepy, you don’t really need to escalate.
Unfortunately, there is a plot, and that’s where Good Boy hits choppy waters. Bøe does build an effective atmosphere of dread as Sigrid navigates her strange new relationship, and the big reveal (in which we learn what’s really going on) carries the giddy punch of a good urban myth. But it soon becomes apparent that the film only has one trick up its sleeve, and once all the chips are on the table the film settles into an icky rut of by-the-numbers torture porn. The third act is particularly frustrating because the twist left me wanting to know more about how these characters landed in this unhinged situation; indeed, this is the rare horror movie which would be improved by a dollop of exposition. Unfortunately, the film is less interested in they whys of the situation than I was, and what could be a sublime exercise in Watersian camp ultimately settles for being merely unpleasant.
That said, while Good Boy is not as joyously tasteless as I might have hoped, I do have to credit it for being less distasteful than I feared. The subject matter, after all, could be– and has been– used as a Trojan Horse for reactionary political commentary; consider the improbably deathless transphobic canard about the classroom which supposedly installed a litter box for students who “identify” as cats. Thankfully, this does not appear to be Bøe’s aim. There is a refreshing level of sex-positivity in Sigrid’s attempts to wrap her head around her boyfriend’s unconventional relationship with his “pet,” and, remarkably, this sentiment is not entirely washed away when the screaming starts. Good Boy isn’t a great film, but at least it isn’t fundamentally reprehensible.
I can’t fully hate Good Boy, as it represents the sort of transgressive little sickie which keeps me coming back to the movies– the oddball sort of experiment that makes you wonder how in the world someone thought of this. I just wish Bøe thought it through just a little bit more. Good Boy could have worked with no plot, and it could have soared with a plot so convoluted as to keep you guessing until the final moments. Instead, it contains a disappointingly normal amount of plot, which is a kiss of death for a movie like this; the worst thing in the world for a kinky Scandinavian fursuit horror movie to be is “formulaic.” As a would-be midnight movie, Good Boy isn’t ready to be sent off to the farm, but it deserves at least a swat with a rolled up newspaper.
dir. Viljar Bøe
Available digitally, on demand, and in select theaters (though nowhere locally) Friday, 9/8