In a week that we’d hoped to get a look at the new James Bond film, it feels like a change of pace to be reviewing a drama about a grieving surgeon who seeks solace in the world of extreme BDSM. But home streaming is where we are in March 2020, and writer and director J.-P. Valkeapää’s drama went straight into Curzon’s top five most streamed films this week, as well as getting picked up by Film 4 for terrestrial broadcast. A pick up via 2019’s Cannes, Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is a fairly gruelling affair, but like other material on the Anti-Worlds imprint, is rewarding enough to recommend.
Somewhat bafflingly reviewed as ‘hardcore’ by one British broadsheet keen to establish their lack of credentials, this is a seriously-minded exploration of grief. Tom of Finland star Pekka Strang plays Juha, a gifted and respected surgeon who is mourning his wife; any film that opens with a title card superimposed over a graphic image of surgery sets out a stall to shock. Juha doesn’t object when his teenage daughter announces she wants a tongue-stud for her birthday; a colleague warns that he is suppressing her natural teenage desire to rebel. But Juha’s mind is elsewhere, and he finds himself hunting down the service of a dominatrix Mona (Blade Runner 2049’s Krista Kosonen). Their relationship goes beyond customer and client, but Juha’s work demeanour changes from having a spring in his step to becoming a dishevelled mess. A collegue wants Juha to get a psychological evaluation to make sure that ‘all the Moomins are in the valley’, but Juha has a death wish in the worst way and only Mona can help.
Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is certainly uncomfortable to watch in the BDSM scenes, but otherwise inhabits a ground not dissimilar to The Killing Of A Sacred Deer or even Altered States. Both Strang and Kosonen do well to make their characters real, although he’s got a lot more to go on in terms of dialogue, and the final scenes land with some impact.
Bafflingly released on horror imprint Shudder in the U.S., Dogs Don’t Wear Pants won’t be for everyone, and isn’t trying to be mainstream entertainment, but neither is it a sex film; it’s a well-intentioned drama about a relationship forged on the edge of what society allows. Kink is a part of life, and this Finish drama is worth a look for consenting adults in their own homes, which is where practically everyone is right now.