The whole movie is pretty summed up through the events of the first scene.
A girl (Zsófia Psotta) rides her bike slowly across a desolated town that looks like the beginning of an episode of The Walking Dead. As she makes her way down the streets, a noise is heard, and as she turns, an army of dogs are quickly upon her. This may sound bizarre and not real, but it is very much the truth about writer/director Kornél Mundruczó’s White God, which feeds right into the way that Magnolia Picture is marketing it — a mixture of Homeward Bound, Cujo, and Planet of the Apes (specifically the more recent one, Rise of the Planet of the Apes).
White God is the story of Lili (Psotta) who is sent to live with her father after her mother and boyfriend leave the country for a three month conference in Australia. The relationship between the two is obviously strained as the fact that Lili has brought along her dog, Hagen, is a point of contention with her father wanting the dog completely gone.
The first night together doesn’t go well ending with a complaint by a resident the next morning that leads to the pound showing up because of a reported biting (which didn’t happen). The dog is eventually let loose to the dismay of Lili and the story between her, Hagen, and their eventual reunion is set in motion. Beyond this point, sticking with the dog is more interesting as well.
White God has a lot of great things going for it and Mundruczó crafts a very affectionate yet brutal film at times that understands the harsh realities both people and animals must face at the hands of others, but also doesn’t always convey the connection as well as it would like. Once Hagen and Lili are separated, the story of the latter seems to die out.
While it becomes more of a contemplation on the relationship between her and her father, it also dives into her own struggles as a teenager that don’t seem rooted in much other than being 13-years-old and having a father that she doesn’t feel like understands her (stop me if you’ve heard this before). It isn’t a new premise, which makes it one that needs something different to pull it away from the other narratives that go a similar direction.
This difference lies with Hagen who journeys from domestic life to homeless life to captive and dig fighting life into full-fledged army warlord time. The progression of Hagen, and the fact that the filmmakers were able to get this out of a dog that was initially at a pound, is incredible especially when they are able to show the changes in his physique (with a dog double) and personality as the movie progresses.
Initially a sweet and loving dog, Hagen is thrown into the wood chipper almost immediately and introduced into the harsh realities of life on the outside. This brutal change of scenery is something that the dog can’t control, but Lili can, which is why her parallel to him isn’t as convincing as the movie tries to make it. Instead, it leads to a dragging second act that only picks up anytime Hagen or his small dog friend are on screen (especially together).
Problems aside, White God hits its stride once the third act begins and the hostile takeover by the pound dogs led by Hagen begins. Akin to Rise of the Planet of the Apes because of the personal struggle that Hagen goes to and how it is similar to what Caesar went through in that film, the finale is worth the wait and the attack by the dogs on the people that have wronged them are well-shot and have the feeling of a blockbuster horror film because of the level of craftsmanship that went into those scenes. They all look like something we would typically be seeing during the summer and remind me of the original Jurassic Park.
White God never feels like it fully hits the marks that it wants to, but it ends up finishing strong in order to make up for the sluggish second act. It is a film that falls into the category of indie blockbuster because of the level of emotion and excitement that can be reached while viewing it. It doesn’t have that Spielberg level of sentimentality, but it is a film that wears its heart on its sleeve and conveys that rather well.
But my biggest question was: What does Sweden have against dogs?