Film Review: Pet

A shy loner kidnaps and imprisons a pretty girl in this ambitious psychological thriller that's unlikely to attract mainstream audiences but should play well with horror buffs.
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Seth (Dominic Monaghan) is one of life's quiet losers, a gentle, socially maladroit animal lover living in a no-pet building and working at a Los Angeles animal shelter so inundated with strays and abandoned pets that maintaining a no-kill policy is impossible. Pushing 30, he doesn't have a girlfriend and most likely never has, but when he sees Holly (Ksenia Solo)—the high-school heartbreaker who never even noticed him—on a bus, he's smitten.

His awkward efforts to woo her are doomed to failure, even though she hasn't lived up to her golden-girl promise: She's waiting tables at a diner and living with a girlfriend and stuck in a going-nowhere relationship with her not-quite ex, studly bartender Eric (Nathan Parsons). Holly dreams of being a writer, but so far her efforts are confined to scribbling in the journal she always has with her.

That journal, which falls into Seth's hands, emboldens him to take the step that pulls Pet out of the realm of sad, all-the-lonely-people tales into horror-movie territory. He secretly builds an oversized dog cage in the shelter's unused sub-basement and imprisons Holly in it, the first gambit in a war of wills during which it becomes clear that both Holly and Seth have some alarming secrets.

A variation on William Wyler's more up-market The Collector (1965)—based on the novel by John Knowles and starring Terence Stamp and Samantha EggarPet benefits from strong performances by Monaghan and especially Solo, a former child actress best known for her supporting role opposite Natalie Portman in the high-toned ballet horror-show Black Swan. She rises admirably to the challenge of a part that demands she make Holly an atypically unsympathetic victim, given that she spends virtually the entire film in her underwear and physically constrained—her underground prison is so small that she can only sit or rest on her hands and knees.

Ably written and directed by, respectively, Carles Torrens and Jeremy Slater (writer/executive producer of the intense 2016 Fox TV series “The Exorcist”), Pet also features surprisingly sophisticated design anchored by the hoarse barking of dogs, which is even skillfully mixed into parts of the score. But ultimately, its potential audience is limited by the subject matter: “Lady in a cage” movies are by definition harrowing.