Set on an isolated tidal island, Sam (Sam Saunders) comes back home from University for the funeral of a young girl who supposedly fell to her death. There he rekindles an old romance with Rachel (Aiysha Jebali), the daughter of the local priest. However, there are far more sinister things at work as all the men in the village harbour a dark secret.
Dogged is the first feature made by veteran film industry professional, Richard Rowntree, whose name will pop up in TV and film in the art department credits as a greensman. The two-hour movie was based on a four-minute short written by Christina Rowntree, a fact that the Kickstarter campaign for the feature proudly proclaims won the fifth place at a BBC competition to find underground horror directors. Rowntree, calling on the folk horror tradition likens the film to Little Red Riding Hood, The Hills Have Eyes and of course The Wicker Man, though his movie was crowd funded with a minute budget of £15,000. Evoking a heavyweight, especially one as well regarded as The Wicker Man, is a hard one to escape from if your film doesn't pan out the way you'd hoped.
It is no surprise then that despite its lofty ambitions Dogged is a victim of its minuscule budget and its amateurish nature. The edit never flows, we have a very outdated quick-cut sequence coloured entirely red for some reason that looks like it came directly out of the early 2000s. Similarly, shots either linger too long on sections that don't need it or cut away too quickly from shots that require a slower build to the sort of atmosphere that one would assume it is trying to accomplish.
There is a lack of reason concerning camera movement and a point of view that is all over the place. We have Sam as our main character, but the camera floats all over revealing things to the audience but not to Sam. So when things are supposed to pick up pace, we already know a lot of the details that Sam doesn't, meaning that during the endless chases through dark woods by people in, admittedly well-made animal masks, we are not as connected to Sam’s experience as we should be and lose that sense of fear. This is made all the more aggravating by a camera operator that moves the camera about so much that you suspect they are trembling with fear or cold. Thanks to an an inconsistent colour grade the film looks like it was shot over all four seasons and there are moments where you can barely make out what is in the frame. Along with a score that does not allow for one quiet moment, Dogged looks more like a rough cut than a finished product.
However, where it truly falls apart is in the story structure itself. We have a plot which unfolds like The Wicker Man; a man returns to an isolated island to investigate the death of a child, and stumbles upon a strange cult with unknown rituals and origins. There are hippies, references to magic and many other elements that are vying for the spotlight which means most of the dialogue is focused on exposition. This is not helped when the cast is incredibly underwhelming apart from Toby Wynn-Davis who plays our antagonist the dogmatic vicar.
The film could have explored some fascinating elements of culture and society. We have aspects of dogma, religious hypocrisy and the uncomfortable feeling of isolation when you return to the place you grew up. But none of these elements ever seem to flow together cohesively, they are all thrown in one after the other and remain separated without any reason for their existence other than to scare people.
Dogged has a love for the folk horror genre and aspires to be like some of its greats, but it oversteps by throwing too much at the screen for it to handle. That, with the slightly rough editing, weak acting and flat cinematography means that it cannot generate the scares or interest it needs during its overly long runtime. It has been proven that you can make a compelling horror film on a low budget if you write to the budget you have. When you have an entire village in the film, you are going to have problems, which this film cannot overcome.