Waldo the Dog, 2010.
Directed by Kris Canonizado.
Starring Rook Kelly and Jaquelyn Xavier.
A shame-ridden and mentally unstable young man wears a dog mask in order to cope with life.
Ah, lovely. Judging by the title, this sounds like something whimsical and nice. About 17 seconds into the film, when 'Waldo' – a guy in a really quite creepy grey dog mask, knocks on a door and shoots the man who answers in the face, I knew I was horribly wrong. Another short sequence later and he has chased down someone else and shot them multiple times. A bit of pausing in the flash cutting of Waldo crossing names off a list and you see that these people are criminals. Not just your average burglars or anything petty like that, but rapists, child molesters and so forth.
After a flashback to three years earlier, we read reports that a young woman has filed against Waldo himself for stalking her. Following a coldly brutal scene where Waldo finds his victim and rapes her, we see the young man rocking back and forth in his apartment and head butting a mirror until he falls unconscious. Awaking, the film then cuts to Waldo (now masked) running through the night, howling at the moon and stripping away his clothes. It is obvious, as the police reports seen earlier state, that thing young man is clearly mentally very unwell. The affectation of the mask and the tearing away of his clothes are a way of stripping away and disregarding his true identity, and everything therein that he despises about himself.
By becoming a masked vigilante, Waldo can (either consciously or unconsciously) attempt to atone for his own crimes, perhaps believing that by punishing others he can 'cancel' out his own crimes and wipe away his own defects. Another 'benefit' of the mask is that it is, obviously, unchanging. It doesn't betray any emotion and can function as a barrier between Waldo and the rest of the world. But amongst all this is the innards-of-a-black hole dark comedy. Seeing a man in a dog mask trying to eat a burrito and jigging with joy, pumping his fists at the excitement of some nice food, is funny to see. Even his crying after his continual failure to gain respect and advancement in his wrestling endeavours give rise to a guilty smile. Waldo's voice is also a great source of laughs sounding, as he does, like a eunuch combined with Mickey Mouse.
Two years later, we see Waldo repeatedly having the shit kicked out of him by various people / groups of people, presumably because he wanders the streets in a dog mask, seeking out trouble and confrontation when he is unequipped to handle himself physically. Whilst begging on the street, a mystery man gives Waldo a wad of cash, which Waldo uses to take up wrestling training. The wrestling takes the form of Waldo receiving repeated beatings and verbal abuse, which is sort of like the training of Kung Fu movies of old, where a young warrior must punish his body to make it strong and impervious to pain.
As he continues with his lessons, he gets better but regularly has to run away after being too robust with his opponents, pretty much the way a naughty dog does when it knows that it's gone too far. There are also scenes of Waldo playing in a children's playground where he gamely uses the swings and slide. These sorts of juxtapositions do a good job of portraying the swinging mental state of someone mentally off balance; someone who wants to be manly and strong, yet who also wants the comfort of childhood. Waldo also takes a lot of shit from people in the street. People who take umbrage with his very existence, the kind of people who set upon a homeless person for the twisted, visceral thrill of attacking someone with no recourse of action. Scenes like this make clear that at least Waldo has the shame to hide his face, whilst the random dicks on the street let their nasty, animalistic sides out in full view.
His first shot at redemption comes when he hears a woman's scream. Running to her aid, Waldo beats down the two masked men who are accosting her, and takes the woman home. He rests his head in his hands, which could be either because of his despair at the world at large or, indeed, because of the thoughts running through his own mind. He returns to the scene and savagely beats the two men, leaving their unconscious bodies in a dumpster. When the young woman – Jaquelyn (Jaquelyn Xavier) sees him again, the two strike up a friendship. The interplay between the two in Waldo's shack is sweet and the pair are almost adolescent in their interaction as they joke around and bond. The blossoming of their relationship is played really well as Jaquelyn's carefree character imbues the world with a glimpse of happiness. As the two traverse the promenade at a beach, Jaquelyn sells kisses for a dollar to help Waldo out with money, all filmed in the golden light of dusk.
As the two become closer and closer, the relationship gently glides from friendship to mutual attraction. Waldo's reticence when Jaquelyn tells him she wants to make love is explained upon the removal of his mask. Seeing his face, Jaquelyn immediately realises that Waldo is the man who raped her two years earlier. As he desperately tries to explain, she calls the police and he flees. This reveal is shocking because, as a viewer, you become so wrapped up in Waldo's period of hope that you forget that he is a rapist on the run and the film reminds you of this in the most brutal way possible. It also raises questions about the nature of Waldo's relationship with Jaquelyn; was the relationship his way of atonement or just another extension of his obsession? Or it could easily be both, the implications of his previous crime and his warped 'love' for Jaquelyn coalescing into an indecipherable mess in his brain.
After taking out his anger on the wrestlers of his gym and winning the fights on the street that he used to lose, Waldo hears a familiar scream. Running to the scene, he finds one of the masked men from before over the limp body of Jaquelyn. He beats the masked man to death and sits over Jaquelyn’s dead body. As to what she was doing there, Waldo will never know. The idea that she may have been there to give her forgiveness seems outlandish at best, and would be a major mis-step in the treatment of this kind of subject. It could also be slightly troubling that this one woman should be subject to so many random acts of sexual violence but in the world of Waldo it is this constant reminder of his crimes and the ultimate bleakness of his situation that keeps it from having any kind of misogynistic undertone.
Overall, Waldo the Dog is a brilliant piece of low-budget filmmaking. The idea itself could have burned out after a short while but director and co-writer Kris Canonizado keeps the film moving with a flow that compliments the nature of Waldo well. Sometimes the camera is allowed to rest on long scenes of innocuous dialogue, following the chatter with a hazy, laid back style. When violence rears its head, the camera work and editing is suitably sharp and brutal. Rook Kelly, as Waldo, also does an impressive job of imbuing a character who has virtually no lines with an aching sadness and desolation. Jaquelyn Xavier is also due praise for her ebullient portrayal of her namesake character. She does well to counter-point Waldo as a being of depression and her work in the reveal scene is realistically angry and scared.
For a budget of $200,000, Waldo the Dog is an outstanding achievement. The sheer force that is projected onto the screen by the film is something special and the handling of issues such as redemption and the repercussions of one’s actions are handled deftly. I would be majorly surprised if Waldo The Dog didn't generate a cult following over the years, and I'd be equally shocked if we didn't see any of the major players involved turning out another dark gem like this.