The line between what constitutes a movie or video game is growing increasingly thin as video games such as ‘Beyond: Two Souls’ and ‘Until Dawn’ strive to be more cinematic and films like Hardcore Henry evoke the first person shooter experience. Burning Dog has a similar visual aesthetic, placing you in the shoes of “Five” (voiced by Adam Bartley), a harried video game designer who —conveniently on the same day he is ordered by his hard nosed boss to come up with a new idea— stumbles into a tangled blackmail conspiracy. He becomes immersed in a whirlwind labyrinth of double-crossing killers, Russian mobsters, and crooked cops on the streets of Los Angeles. There is a nice photographic juxtaposition between the bright Hollywood exteriors and dark industrial spaces he is forced to occupy.
The visuals truly capture the frenetic nature of video games—slowing down, speeding up, and zooming in rapidly—though at times this hyperactive technique can be frustrating. The POV perspective may not be for everyone, particularly those who do not frequently play video games, but you have to admire writer and director Trey Batchelor’s creative ability to sustain excitement through this chaotic style. This visual mania, along with Batchelor’s snappy and humorous script, makes Burning Dog relentlessly thrilling.
The majority of the action is told in flashback, after an intriguing opening scene where Five gets tasered by a mysterious man and then wakes up behind a cop’s desk. The film rapidly rewinds to the beginning of Five’s day as he relays what happened to him. At first it seems that telling the story in flashback blunts the momentum, but once Burning Dog gets going it becomes clear that the device helps you make sense of the plot’s convoluted craziness. Adam Bartley’s fantastic voice performance gives his character a sympathetic and down-to-earth charisma, giving the fast and furious narrative a sense of groundedness. The ensemble cast (Greg Grunberg, Matt Bushell, Eddie Jemison, and more) are thoroughly charming in their slightly cliche roles. Unfortunately, the few women in the film are regulated to models or cam girls.
Burning Dog keeps you constantly guessing where the story will go and what the main character’s fate will be. The rapid-fire dialogue and intricate web of conspiracy and lies leaves you as lost as Five, providing a consistent intrigue that keeps you electrified throughout. The exhilarating action set pieces put you on a wild roller coaster ride that leaves you breathless. While there was much debate about Hardcore Henry, Batchelor successfully takes video game storytelling, visuals, and logic and makes it work for film. Batchelor’s film may not appeal to those who are adverse to the video game aesthetic, but Burning Dog is a fierce barrel of fun.
Burning Dog is out now
by Caroline Madden
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero, Bruce Springsteen. Her favourite films include Dog Day Afternoon, Raging Bull, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Lord of the Rings. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies from SCAD and also appears in Fandor, Reverse Shot, Crooked Marquee, and IndieWire. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss. Order her book Springsteen as Soundtrack here.