Studio: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Director: Carles Torrens
Writer: Jeremy Slater
Producer: Nick Phillips, Kelly Martin Wagner
Stars: Dominic Monaghan, Ksenia Solo, Jennette McCurdy, Nathan Parsons, Da’Vone McDonald
An awkward loner kidnaps his longtime crush and holds her prisoner in an animal shelter basement.
If not for in-between scenes of social media stalking, one could almost sympathize with Seth’s slide down a spiral of unrequited affection. Outward appearances suggest a likable loner worth a puffed lower lip. His sole physical connection comes from the hugs of a German Shepherd scheduled to be put down at the animal shelter where he works. Take away the Likes/Dislikes insight cribbed from ill-gotten snooping and Seth’s one-man rehearsal of “meet cute” scenarios might come off as comedic. Unfortunately, his intentions burn with heat from a dark furnace.
Holly from high school hasn’t forgotten Seth because she never remembered him in the first place. Seth certainly remembers her. She was the unattainable beauty whose hair swirling in slow motion was especially entrancing to an unnoticed introvert whose ideas exceed his abilities.
The two never-acquaintances have an adulthood reunion on the L.A. Metro. Their brief bus ride together is so unremarkable, Holly doesn’t recall it days later when Seth shows up at the restaurant where she waits tables. Seth shows his hand by revealing how much he knows and Holly’s alarm sounds its siren. Seth’s persistence continues. So does Holly’s resistance.
After learning Holly’s innermost secrets from a fortuitously dropped journal, Seth concocts a plan. He can help Holly and they both can find love, but he needs her undivided attention first. Underneath the kennels in the animal shelter’s basement, Seth constructs a cage. Seth is convinced he can make Holly see from his eyes, even if he has to make her his pet to do so.
This setup can sound like another misogynist terror template for a captive woman and the unstable creep keeping her prisoner. For some of the story, that is where “Pet” takes you.
Seth’s brand of sociopathy mirrors the sheepishly murderous manner of Jeffrey Dahmer as opposed to the outward insanity of Charles Manson. Dominic Monaghan couldn’t be better at bouncing between this side of Seth and the affable awkwardness of a minimum wage nobody hopelessly oblivious to his social ineptitude. It seems like a simple switch between private and public personas. But Monaghan and the material come at the character from more than merely two angles. Seth’s chameleon psyche is only one complexity in the bigger puzzle of “Pet” where not everything is as it first appears.
Ksenio Solo starts off stereotypical. Holly has hotness, but a vacantly bland personality. It’s an imbalance befitting a retired prom queen, though Solo seems to be missing a step when it comes to creating someone compelling enough to warrant all of Seth’s eerie effort. It later turns out Solo is actually running a convincing long con regarding who Holly is.
The first act of “Pet” is all prologue to Holly’s capture. 30 minutes of shadows in darkness and following footsteps fuel atmosphere for an effective, if redundant, cautionary tale about the dangers of internet information and being vigilant against unhealthy obsessions.
At its second act switch, “Pet” adds a layer that takes it from grounded dark drama to tabloid thriller. Swap in Michael Douglas with a sexy starlet of choice, and “Pet” could make space for itself alongside the 20th-century tawdriness of “Fatal Attraction” or some other sinister soap opera of lunatic love.
This salacious piece of plotting redirects the premise and for that, viewers prepped for straightforward stalker scares may feel misled. Yet without that turn into cinematic sensationalism, “Pet” might be stuck feeling like forgettable MOW filler. Writer Jeremy Slater and director Carles Torrens gamble on an unlikely twist and it intriguingly elevates Seth and Holly’s interplay instead of feeling like a gimmicky gotcha.
“Pet” sevens out somewhat when it rolls the dice on another shift for the finale. The film already stutters from rhythm issues by taking more than one turn with its tone. Then just as intensity hits a peak, “Pet” pauses for intimacy that truncates suspense when the third act should only be picking up speed.
“Pet” has its two-person dynamic down cold, but never fully figures out how to handle side roles. Secondary parts serve as either exposition or plot advancement, never as authentic personalities. The curtain pulls all the way back on clichéd characterization when introducing an accusatory movie detective who only asks trap-setting questions he already knows the answers to. “Hunh. You don’t say? That’s odd because, I already checked that and…”
Multiple intentions becoming misaligned keep “Pet” from being a widely-appreciated thriller with resonant moments audiences will talk about for years. Visceral shocks going for the gore of a crushed rat, torn fingernail, and pliers taken to teeth also cheapen the psychological seriousness by being too tuned to horror movie traditions.
When “Pet” doesn’t have these distractions, its creative take on a worn-out idea takes the story to places even an imaginative mind can’t quite anticipate. Keep walking straight ahead. Don’t turn around to look at where the narrative catches a hangnail or the camera coughs up convention. Follow these guidelines and when “Pet” stays away from formula, unsettling interaction between Monaghan and Solo moves mood in a wonderfully disturbing direction.
Review Score: 70