I hate those goddamn Sarah McLachlan ads. When those cloying ballads start and there is footage of those dogs, I do not feel pity for them. Instead, I resent the shamelessness of the ad. That being said, I understand why they do it. The reaction to suffering animals is often stronger than the reaction to suffering people. As a corollary to this, depicting a murdered dog is a surefire way to galvanize sympathy for the owner and scorn for the killer. I know this because I watched two dead dog movies in one day.
Jolly is absolutely adorable. She’s a mini-doberman with eager eyes and a big smile; Harry (Brian Petsos) loves her more than life itself. When he comes home one day and finds her strung up, Revenge for Jolly! is all he can think about. Alongside cousin Cecil (Oscar Isaac), Harry follows a string of clues. They ask whores and other lowlives where the dog murderer is, gunning down anyone who is in their way. They also drink a lot – mostly beer, with the occasional shot of tequila.
The best reason to see Revenge for Jolly! is the character actors Harry and Cecil encounter on their booze-soaked journey. Brimming with cameos, the episodic structure starts to feel like a throwback to crime movies from the 1990s. Elijah Wood pops up as a neurotic bartender, and Gillian Jacobs appears shortly after as a hooker with a temper. They are all are having fun with dark comedies, although Garret Dillahunt and Kevin Corrigan are the standouts as a husband and best man, respectively. Come to think of it, the wedding scene is the movie’s highlight, as its body count and weird perspective are so over the top that its excess is downright admirable.
Revenge for Jolly! has one type of scene that it does well, and it does the scene over and over. Harry and Cecil meet some people, they yell at each other, then someone gets shot. This creates some structural problems. The movie feels like a series of shorts rather than a cohesive feature. Still, there are enough macabre asides and blood-soaked surprises so that the funny moments compensate for larger issues. Jolly’s untimely death was not in vain.
Harris is pretty damn adorable, too. He is a golden retriever with sharp instincts, so he offers an early indication that the people visiting the Hughes family are up to no good. Mary (Selma Blair) and Mark (Joshua Close) may have similar instincts, but they are initially polite to Bobby (James D’Arcy) and Jane (Rachel Miner), the intruders who masquerade as neighbors. This is set-up for Replicas, a home invasion thriller by Jeremy Power Regimbal.
The film is gorgeously shot and aspires to be creepy, yet lacks the necessary tension to unnerve an audience. As I was watching, I couldn’t help but wonder by Regimbal didn’t take bolder risks with this material. Once Bobby and Jane enter the Hughes vacation home, we already know they’re up to no good. They lack basic social graces and are polite in a passive-aggressive way. But the script by Close lingers on these scenes, leaving longtime genre fans to wait for the other shoe to drop.
Replicas ends with a power struggle. Guns change hands, demands are made, and the couples are faced to debase each other, one way or another. Even with twisted depictions of sexual assault and sudden violence, the uneven editing weakens the thrills so that the film will not become a standout example of the genre. The only powerful sense of danger comes from Alex Ferris, who plays Bobby’s kid Jared. His creepy kid performance is different from similar creepy kids since his blank face hides reserves of rage.
Like any home invasion thriller, what makes Replicas stand out is the agenda of the interlopers. I won’t give away the details, except to say the Close’s script obscures them in a strange way. A lot happens between the reveal of the sinister secrets and the tragic ones, and a tighter script would make the connection between them comparatively more powerful. Poor Harris. His sacrifice deserves a better movie.
shout out: BYT would like to thank YOTEL for being the official accommodation of BYT’s Tribeca Coverage