Written & Directed by: #SteveSale
Film Review by: #ChrisBuick
Dogwood is a number of things. On one level, it’s a social commentary lamenting the mind-numbing trappings of modern-day life, mobile phones, material possessions etc. On another, it's a study of what it means to be truly happy in life. And on another still, it’s a story about a guy trying not to die in the woods. But really what Dogwood is first and foremost, is really f***ing brilliant.
Martin (Newton), stuck in a dead-end job, forced to work all the hours God sends and finding no pleasure in life apart from the pleasure he gets from...well...himself, one day simply snaps. After quite the outburst at his boss, Martin now finds himself without a job, a home or a purpose. He briefly contemplates suicide but quickly deciding against it, he realises that now might an opportune time to finally pursue his writing talents, so sets out to set up a new life for himself as the poet he always dreamed of being. In the woods. Alone.
Writer/director Steve Sales wields both the pen and the camera effortlessly in equal measure here. Dogwood a gorgeous looking film, properly gorgeous, both in its gritty and its pretty moments. Sale knows how to wring every last drop out of every last frame, capturing the solitary nature and very real peril of Martin’s new-found existence (one or two moments which take you by surprise really drive home the realities of this bold life choice) while still managing to show the beauty and sense of freedom it clearly brings him as well, the wide array of angles and styles Sale utilises to tell his story in unique and interesting ways makes sure the film always feels fresh.
Making drama or comedy out of the relatively mundane isn’t easy but Sale does it here, managing to create captivating moments out of a man eating dubious mushrooms or trying to catch fish. Martin isn’t exactly a natural when it comes to the outdoors, but is a man determined to take his life and his fate into his own hands, his inspiring perseverance causing us to cheer him on each time he falls and raise our fists in joy when he finally triumphs.
There is a somewhat overly dramatic set piece near the films conclusion that seems rather out of place tonally with the rest of the film and perhaps causes it to momentarily lose its otherwise toe-perfect footing before setting itself right again. There is also a bigger political/environmental message that is touched upon briefly at the start before becoming suddenly more front and centre towards the end that perhaps either needed more of a prominence throughout or pulling back a bit rather than the limbo it finds itself in.
As the sole screen presence for the large majority of the film, Newton’s performance is as exposed to us as Martin is to his environment, but just like Martin, Newton commits one hundred percent to every requirement of his role and his highly nuanced performance delivers time and time again. The films aptly discordant score also acts a great audio representation of the slow fracturing of Martin’s mind as his period of solitude progresses, which paired with a great narration from John Hill could be seen as another example of Martin’s mind coming undone.
Uplifting, funny, gruelling, inspiring, and at times painful to watch, often managing to be all these things at once, Dogwood is an accomplished piece of filmmaking that deserves your time.
Watch the trailer for Dogwood here: