As with most road trip movies, the journey undertaken by quarreling step-brothers Michael (Jack Parry Jones) and Thor (Christy O’Donnell) and lost soul Caitlin (Tara Lee) in Phillip John’s coming-of-ager Moon Dogs is of greater significance than their destination.
A cliché, yes, but apt nonetheless for a voyage of discovery from the far reaches of Shetland to Glasgow by fish truck, boat, sidecar and lorry bunk – to name but a few. Director John brings a wealth of TV experience (Downton Abbey, New Tricks) to proceedings; it’s a big screen feature debut combining the collective efforts of the Irish Film Board, Ffilm Cymru and Creative Scotland, and engaging leads from each country, which shows some signs of promise.
Bookended by imagery of costumed villagers with flaming torches conducting an ancient ceremony paying homage to the Viking heritage of their island home, Moon Dogs juxtaposes ancestry and tradition with the pitfalls and complications of modern life. Here were we have a two-point-four kids set up of square pegs and round holes. Chalk and cheese step-brothers who share no more than a similar age are forced together with re-married parents (Claire Cage and Jamie Sives). Michael is obsessed with little other than girlfriend (Kate Bracken) and their shared plans for attending university on the mainland together.
But helping out the distant, brooding Thor with a new musical experiment leads to a late night and failed exams, leaving him working in a fish factory pulling heads off prawns. In spite of a doting father trying desperately to connect, knowing where you are from in order to know who you are and where you’re going resounds more profoundly with Thor whose mother abandoned them when he was a child. The plot contrives to spur both lads southwards and it is at a gatecrashed wedding that they come across the ballsy, self-assured and straight-talking Caitlin, who is the literal and metaphorical middle finger of what becomes an odd, bawdy love triangle. It is thus that a dreamer, romantic and brutal realist set off on the trail of their individual quests with the collective destination of Glasgow.
Along the way, encounters with Caitlin’s sordid, abusive past with men significantly her senior – and the psychological scars this is likely to have left – is glossed over with concerning alacrity, especially given her age. Her far less experienced travelling companions are in turn intrigued, terrified and enamoured of this free-spirited muse, leading to various liaisons, but Michael’s hypocrisy with regards fidelity rather sidelines him from our sympathies. Momentum does build in the third act and this coalesces thanks in large part to O’Donnell’s performance as Thor. An emotional release from years of suppression is one of few moments that truly hits home in a film which meanders – like the disjointed journey of its characters – a little too uncertainly.
Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens