Now on DVD
Directed by Nicholas Mastandrea
Clueless and attractive actors have been terrorized by such diverse critters as spiders, monkeys, sharks, cats, jackrabbits, termites, and even frogs. I don’t remember exactly how the frogs terrorized, or killed the characters in the film Frogs, because they aren’t very big, they don’t have teeth, and you can crush them pretty easily, but yeah, they have killed people in films before. I’ve always found dogs to be a pretty effective baddie in flicks, possibly due to my own unfortunate encounter with a Doberman Pincher at the age of six that resulted in my head basically being ripped open. Beyond that though, even if there hasn’t been the most incredible doggy horror films (Man’s Best Friend, Devil Dog, Rottweiler and The Pack come to mind), there has at least been several very cool evil doggy scenes that stand out in my mind (doggy ripping out the throat in Suspiria, bits of Cujo, bits of Madhouse, The Omen and Resident Evil).
So, here comes The Breed, directed by Wes Craven alum, Nicholas Mastandrea and starring cinema lovelies Michelle Rodriguez (Resident Evil) and Taryn Manning (from the detestable Cult). This should have been the granddady of evil dog flicks, really. Decent sized budget, the nice and spare, yet effective set-up of kids being trapped in an old cabin by genetically engineered dogs (were they engineered, or were they just trained to be “bad?”), and a competent crew and cast. Instead of the alpha dog of horror flicks, The Breed disappoints, registering as mediocre on just about every possible level.
Two constantly bickering brothers, Matt (Eric Lively) and John (Oliver Hudson) head to an exotic island for a week of fun and relaxation. They are joined by Matt’s tough girlfriend Nicki (Michelle Rodriguez, who seems to have the role of tough chick nailed down so hard, she’ll never get cast in any part where she doesn’t have to jump kick a guy in the face while flexing her boobs), John’s saucy girlfriend Sara (Taryn Manning) and an unredeemable caricature of a minority cliche, Noah. The group intend on having a week of relaxation, fun and spending quality time together.
However, after one of them is viciously attacked by a dog, the friends decide to leave the island early – only to find their plane wrecked, possibly even sabotaged intentionally by the dogs. As the day goes on, the friends find themselves fighting for their lives against a vicious pack of dogs – hundreds of them, who don’t intend to let the group make it off the island alive.
The dogs in The Breed are well trained. They know how to stands there and look frightened, confused…they bark on command, they leap on cue. It’s pretty impressive, more so, if you watch the making-off special, where they show exactly how all the dogs were trained, and how some of them have been doing this for years. The problem is, the dogs just aren’t scary. Now, that can often be a problem in many of theses “puppies on a rampage” films…the dogs just don’t look that mean. It’s hard to make a well-trained dog look dangerous; because a really mad, scary dog, has its own look, one that anybody that’s actually faced down a mad dog knows. The dog in Cujo was pretty f**king scary, but he was drooling an ocean, and was seemingly covered in dogshit and human blood. The dogs in The Breed just look cute and well behaved. We can tell that they’re acting. It’s not that the stuff that they’re doing isn’t exciting per se, but it does feel like just a bunch of stunts.
That level of safeness crosses over into the other elements of the film as well. Every plot twist seems choreographed, every set-piece has been done before. You could transplant the structure of this plot into almost any horror movie, and it would work. Screw dogs! You could have replaced them with zombies, and the movie would still have run its course for the most part. There just isn’t any new ground being broken here. Now, I have no problem with a predictable B-movie, none at all really. I think sometimes that’s part of the fun. What I do have a problem with, is when a B-movie refuses to embrace, or pump up, some of the genre’s inherently trashy or visceral elements. If I see a killer doggy movie I want to see dogs rip somebody’s genitals out! I want to see entire faces being devoured! The movie was mostly bloodless. One doggy scene in the recent British shocker Wilderness puts every single setpiece in this film to shame, which sucks because there really could have been some enjoyable canine chaos in this. Also, don’t have the plot involve sexy young people going into a cabin, and then not have them f**k. What kind of kids are these? Plus, they all look like their thirty, and there’s even dialog hinting at virginity in some of the characters. Get real. Some fifteen-year-old girls are preggers with their second child in high school nowadays so I really don’t buy the idea of chaste thirty-year-olds. Or at least I don’t want to meet them. They sound creepy.
The final offense of the film, is that even though the set-up seems basic enough, they randomly throw in a completely bizarre plot mechanism, where if you are bit by one of the dogs, then somehow you are linked with them psychically. Yeah, pretty gonzo isn’t it? Being linked with them doesn’t really mean that you can read their mind, it doesn’t really protect you from them either, it just makes you really protective of your food, and give off mixed sexual signals. It also doesn’t contribute to the plot at all.
In conclusion, if you are in the mood to watch a pack of expertly trained dogs, chase a bunch of good looking thirtysomethings around an old house, then fine, pop this sucker in. You could do worse. This is head and shoulders above most Sci-Fi Channel premieres, but just inherent in that statement is my frustration. This just could have been so much f**king fun if the filmmakers cut loose a little bit. Show a boobie or something…then have a dog bite it off! Do something unexpected. Shock people, or at least be so stupid that the fans can laugh. But The Breed plays it safe all the way down the line, and that’s why it will be easily forgotten.