Stray Dogs opens with a powerful scene. Nearly the first ten minutes is spent with a man named Jeff as he struggles with a tough decision regarding his dog. The film is painfully slow and will affect any pet owner. It should all come off as manipulative and cheesy, but there is a genuine quality that draws audiences in even as they want to look away. Unfortunately, this strong beginning is where the movie peaks.
The plot is about Jeff and his brother Travis and their journey to bury Jeff’s dog. As the two backpack through the mountains, they encounter a park ranger who is investigating a murder. At the same time, they run into a suspicious stranger. Stray Dogs is taking on a lot. This is not just a story about a man burying his loved pet with the help of his brother. It is also a tale about a broken relationship. Early on, it is clear the film is as much about them two.
The mystery aspect comes out of nowhere. The park ranger is introduced along with a brutal murder. It is a typical setup considering the premise, but there is a question of how well it will mix in with what seems like it is going to be a very intimate story. The answer comes with mixed results. The characters are interesting enough. Jeff is obviously distraught while the stranger they meet is interesting. This comes at the expense of the more personal parts of the plot.
Stray Dogs attempts to build a mystery while also adding to the backstory of the two brothers. In thrillers these moments are usually used to add a bit of flavor. Here, they should mean more and it ends up hurting the flow. This works both ways as the mystery portions of the film never get the chance to be fully developed. Everything is decent, but nothing every stands out.
This does not mean the movie is not interesting. The snowy landscapes are beautiful and things move at a quick (sometimes too much so) pace. Stray Dogs does rely a little too much on dramatic slow motion, but this does not ruin the experience as a whole. It is a shame that the eye catching beginning is not a reflection of the rest of the film.
Stray Dogs will release July 27
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