How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog Review

Peter (Kenneth Branagh), is a cynical, self-absorbed British playwright entering middle age with writer's block, a wife (Robin Wright Penn) obsessed with having babies and a mother-in-law (Lynn Redgrave) dealing with Alzheimer's. Just when he thought things couldn't possibly get any worse, a newly separated single mom (Lucinda Jenney) with a precocious eight-year old daughter (Suzi Hofrichter) moves in next door, and a crazed fan (Jared Harris) using Peter's name, begins stalking the neighbourhood. A terrified family living nearby buys a barking dog for protection giving Peter the first of many sleepless nights and the impetus for the film's title. Peter's nightmare has just begun, but for fans of Branagh the stage is now set for How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog.

In order to get through his writer's block, Peter volunteers his time at a local theatre workshop. The director is a young man named Brian (David Krumholtz ) whose idea of directing is to get onstage and act, and who breaks out singing Petula Clark songs when he is happy. One of the characters in his workshop play is a pre-teen child. Unhappy with his un-childlike sounding dialogue, Peter decides to spend time with eight-year old neighbor Amy in hopes of gleaning more natural dialogue from a real child. Peter's friend Larry (Peter Riegert) is mainly there for moral support and Chivas Regal-fueled lunches. One of the more interesting characters is Debra (Peri Gilpin), a talk show host who interviews Peter about his latest work How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog. They engage in some heated exchanges and Branagh's ever rapier wit is utilised to its fullest. Peter befriends his stalker, and they spend many a night discussing life, love, writing and Peter's newly developed impotency (courtesy of the neighbor's dog).

The film is essentially three stories: Peter's life as a playwright, his relationship with wife Melanie and mother-in-law Edna, and his growing friendship with eight-year old Amy. Branagh gives a fabulously manic running dialogue throughout, and looks very much the part of an aging washed-up playwright, complete with days-old beard growth and requisite paunch. Wright Penn shines as Melanie, his sweet and quirky wife, so very desperate to have a baby. Hofrichter as Amy was a casting coup for Kalesniko - she not only looks and sounds like a very young Jodie Foster, but her onscreen rapport with Branagh strikes a genuine chord. She has to portray a girl with a mild case of Cerebal Palsy, and she does a fantastic job. Harris, Peter's biggest fan and stalker, is so over-the-top, you either love him or hate him - fortunately I found him entertaining. Redgrave is virtually unrecognisable as Peter's Alzheimer's afflicted mother-in-law. Sporting a very good American accent and not given much dialogue, she manages to steal every scene she is in.

Director Michael Kalesniko (Private Parts) has created a hugely entertaining, acerbic look at a man in midlife crisis. The film never gives up its cynicism, and although the relationship between Peter and Amy is allowed to develop naturally, it never crosses the line into made-for-television sentimentality. The film was released for a short run in selected cities and then went straight to video. A pity it never attracted a bigger audience. The Petula Clark songs are a nice touch, and the Vancouver locales (selected, because they resembled Los Angeles) are beautiful.

Winner Les Prix Tournage
Best Feature Film
Avignon Film Festival

Best Feature and Best First Film
Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema

25th Anniversary
Toronto International Film Festival

Best Feature Film
Avignon/New York Film Festival

Voter's Choice
Lake Placid Film Forum

Audience Choice Award
Newport International Film Festival


The film is presented in 1.33:1 non-anamorphic pan and scan, though the film was originally shot in widescreen (the opening sequence is letterboxed to 1.85:1). There is some edge enhancement, a bit of grain and softness, but the colours appear natural, most notably the fleshtones.


The soundtrack is English Dolby Digital 2.0. Given that the film is predominately dialogue-driven, it isn't too much of a disappointment. The sound is crisp and clean, and the surround channels are utilised quite nicely in a loud party scene.


Chapter Stops and Menus

The main menu background is the same shot used on the DVD cover, although in yellow instead of red. There are 28 chapter stops, each represented by a Polaroid picture which consist of different stills taken from the film framed against a static, plain yellow background.

Theatrical Trailer

A standard full frame, Dolby 2.0 trailer is included.


An option for Spanish subtitles is included.


If you are in the mood for cerebral grown-up humour, this film may well be your cuppa tea. Kalesniko's razor-sharp dialogue, engaging cast and an outstanding performance by Branagh, make this straight-to-video little sleeper, a funny and charmingly cynical must see. Maybe someone in their infinite wisdom will see fit to give this film a better DVD treatment than its current barebones offering, but in the meantime, How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog is highly recommended viewing.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 17:56:01

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