Lili and her mixed breed dog, Hagen, are best friends and are inseparable. When Lili’s mother and stepfather travel to a three month conference in Australia, she is dropped off to live with her humdrum father who takes a special disliking toward canines, especially mutts. After Lili and her father get into a heated argument about the friendly Hagen, her father forces Hagen out of the car and leaves him at the side of the road to defend for himself. Hagen goes through a series of misfortune adventures: being chased down by merciless dog catchers, being abused to train for a dog fighting circuit, and narrowly escaping being euthanized by a local dog pound employee.
“White God” is a hybrid film from Hungary by director Kornél Mundruczó. Part canine drama and part vicious animal thriller, “White God” is equivalent to the string of 1980 films where the day of the animal comes to snout and man takes an unwanted step down from the dominance hierarchy. With stunning cinematography of Hungarian landscape and an uncanny look at two terrific animal actors, “White God” deserves to be one of the top foreign films in the United States and one of the better movies to be have been released from Hungary in the last few years.
Mundruczó, who also had a pen-ship hand in the screenplay, tightrope-walks that fine line between drama and horror and with familiar collaborating co-writers Kata Wéber and Viktória Petrányi, “White God” is no different. The story molds Hagen, the leading dog actor, into the displaying of a human personality and expressing human-like feelings. Hagen, a once lovable, dependent, and faithful companion to 13-year-old Lili, is forced to defend for himself, learning that the real world is nothing like the cozy comforts of his adored Lili who catered to his every whim. When Hagen reaches that breaking point of when enough is enough, he becomes the “Rise of the Planet of the Ape'” Caesar to “White God,” breaking free his fellow mutts, constructing a ruthless canine army, and seeking vengeance on all who took advantage or mistreated him by severing their throats from the rest of their necks. The film quickly becomes bloody with mauled bodies and the sharp turn from a sad “Marley & Me” to a “The Breed” thriller, proceeding with a smooth transition without much notice.
Luke and Body, the two unwanted mixed breed dogs that were adopted to play Hagen, are well trained, delivering emotion that told the downfall story of Hagen and expressing a physical acting style very rare in animal actors. The production company also adopted from the pound a record breaking 274 dogs for the final scenes, a massive undertaking that shouldn’t go unnoticed. The same kind of enthusiasm can’t be said about the human actors. The young and beautiful Zsófia Psotta portrays an unsympathetic, robot-like Lili and she’s suppose to be heartbroken and devastated by her father’s rash decision to discard Hagen; instead, she dissolves back into her normal mundane routine after a few feeble attempts to locate Hagen and adhering to her father’s commands with prompt attention. If my father scraps my loved pet to the curb, I would be insanely mad for months, ignoring him until he couldn’t take it. There also must be a Hungarian law or code about mutts as their fondness in the film is on the lower end of the totem pole and where tenants must pay a fee for owning them or put them down for a single bite on hand. Many other countries do have an out of control mutt population problem and “White God” feels about right when concerning that system of controlling the mutt population.
“White God” doesn’t claim to be an intense when-animals-attack horror movie, but serves as a beautifully blended sub-genre film, shot and edited with the intention of classing up, and slightly educating, an issue that warrants attention of an unwanted dog’s mistreatment. I wasn’t able to cover the DVD or Blu-ray release as Magnolia just provided, very generously I might add, a streaming link and with streaming links, the quality wasn’t up to par and didn’t include any extras. “White God” feels like a PETA over-executed attempt to make cruelty to animals a horrifying act that will cost you your life in the end.