Written and Directed by Gordy Hoffman
Starring Marci Miller
Short film review by Hannah Sayer
This troubling tale is hard to pin down into one genre as, with its shifting tone, there is something odd but likeable about Gordy Hoffman’s short Dog Bowl.
The short film opens with a shot of Debra, played by Marci Miller, and her dog; comically, the dog is being fed from the jar that she is eating out of. This is strangely effective in setting the audience up to think that the narrative they are about to witness is just a quirky comedy. Some of the darker scenes later shock and build up the intensity as the viewer racks their brain trying to figure out what is going on. The quick and focused editing allows for realism to play a huge part in the depiction of this story. The intercutting of shots of Debra at work and at home suggests that the viewer is meant to pick up on the small details that are happening in her everyday life.
This is uncompromising filmmaking, as within the first few minutes of the film the viewer witnesses Debra being groped at work.. It is clear that she is repeatedly used for sex at work. The viewer feels like a voyeur of something they should not be witnessing. This is reinforced as someone is on look out while the act occurs, who tells the man to stop when a car approaches. Hoffman impresses in his tackling of these scenes; the camera fails to pan away and we are forced to witness what is happening right in the centre of the frame. Then, a development in the narrative occurs, where Debra is watching a lady walking her dog alone at night, when she steals the vest of the service dog and locks herself in her car.
This is the unclear introduction to Dog Bowl and it certainly creates a sense of intrigue to find out more about who this woman is and what is motivating her actions. No music is used up until this point and it encapsulates the narrative when it is finally used. The score by Petra Haden is effective throughout of creating a dystopian feel, reminiscent of Chilean composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s haunting original score for Channel 4’s excellent television thriller Utopia.
There is certainly an underlying theme of women being seen as objects to be used for service, which is evidenced when Debra decides to put on the service dog’s vest. There is a focus on the intensity of her actions, as she is told she is not allowed to wear it at work, leading her fragile nature to be exposed. The groping continues once she is no longer allowed to wear it. It is as if the vest acts as a barrier protecting her, but also suggesting that she is of service to be used by men.
The film’s dystopian tone is reinforced at the big twist, as something is found in the vest when her dog is found to be bleeding when wearing it. Hoffman is ambitious in the scale of the subject matter that he tackles in this short film, as it is revealed that everything all adds up to be part of a bigger picture, where Debra’s loneliness is explained to be of no fault of her own. With its slightly absurd but comedic ending, that seems like it could be part of a different film altogether, the juxtaposition of tones throughout creates an overall dark but at times light-hearted dystopian vision.