Dog Food

Though loaded with perhaps an excess of social issues -- from spousal abuse and incest to the ethics of chowing canine -- careful handing and committed performances make "Dog Food" an engrossing dysfunctional-family drama. Pic reps another strong effort from director Carlos Siguion-Reyna ("Yesterday Children," "The Man in Her Life"), one likely to travel far on the fest circuit.

Though loaded with perhaps an excess of social issues — from spousal abuse and incest to the ethics of chowing canine — careful handing and committed performances make “Dog Food” an engrossing dysfunctional-family drama. Pic reps another strong effort from director Carlos Siguion-Reyna (“Yesterday Children,” “The Man in Her Life”), one likely to travel far on the fest circuit.

Her mother having died several years before, stubbornly self-possessed schoolgirl Lily (Alessandra de Rossi, impressive in her first major role) counts Bagwis the dog as her best friend. But almost as old as she is, the mutt is growing incontinent and bothersome, creating further tension between Lily and her bitchy stepmom, Sonia (Glydel Mercado).

Coming home to find Bagwis missing one day, Lily is casually informed by insensitive dad Tomas (Ricky Davao of “The Kite”) that he’s sold the hound to local dog-meat butcher Mr. Teban (Dante Rivero). Adding insult to injury, Sonia mentions that Bagwis will be on Pop’s birthday party menu.

Lily angrily confronts the aged dogmeister; abashed, he returns Bagwis unharmed the next day, and an unlikely friendship develops between schoolgirl and erstwhile nemesis. He provides a shoulder to cry on when Lily decides her pet should be (humanely) put to sleep after all.

But he can’t provide much help, nor can Lily ask for it, once Tomas — who hasn’t adjusted well to the humiliation of his suspension from the police force after what he says was a setup — begins slipping into her room at night to molest her, while pregnant Sonia sleeps. Latter, who endures Tomas’ periodic batterings despite her delicate condition, proves not so wicked a stepmother after discovering this ugly secret. But both wife and daughter suffer further before Mr. Teban, too, gleans the truth.

While last reel succumbs somewhat to the melodrama Siguion-Reyna had previously kept at bay — there’s a chase, fisticuffs and gunplay — ending is a memorably macabre doozy, with Tomas meeting a fate truly fit for a dog.

Despite ample opportunities here for lurid bombast, pic is admirably restrained by Philippine standards, letting the emotions suggest themselves rather than resorting to moralizing or histrionics. As a result, scenes of violent abuse have a genuinely unsettling, raw force.

Perfs by all four principals are excellent, with Davao making Tomas an object of pity as well as revulsion. Sober, unobtrusive design and tech contributions are sharply handled, apart from Ryan Cayabyab’s occasionally heavy-handed score.

Dog Food

Philippines

Production

An LVN Pictures presentation of a Reynafilms production in association with Crown Seven Films. (International sales: Reynafilms, Makati City, Philippines.) Produced by Carlos Siguion-Reyna. Executive producers, Tatus Aldana, Bibeth Orteza. Directed by Carlos Siguion-Reyna. Screenplay, Enrique Ramos.

Crew

Camera (color), Romulo Araojo; editor, Manet Dayrit; music, Ryan Cayabyab; production designer, Joey Luna; art director, James Price; sound (Dolby), Ari Trofeo, Albert Michael Idioma; assistant director, Ada Bautista; casting, Julie Ysla. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 9, 2000. Running time: 87 MIN.

With

Tomas - Ricky Davao Sonia - Glydel Mercado Teban - Dante Rivero Lily - Alessandra de Rossi

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