Dogs Don’t Wear Pants, 2019.
Directed by J-P Valkeapää.
Starring Pekka Strang, Krista Kosonen, Ilona Huhta, Oona Airola and Jani Volanen.
A bereaved father finds that he is able to move through his grief via the world of erotic asphyxiation.
The world of BDSM doesn’t have a great deal of representation on the big screen. Outside of the bizarre mummy porn fantasy of the Fifty Shades of Grey series, sex at the cinema is decidedly vanilla. Step forward Finnish filmmaker J-P Valkeapää, who has written and directed the unhinged Dogs Don’t Wear Pants – a pitch-black comedy that’s unafraid of leather, sexually motivated suffocation and violent interludes involving pliers.
But things start in wholesome fashion, with Juha (Pekka Strang) and his young daughter, Elli, fishing in a lake. When Juha’s wife goes for a dip in the water, though, she becomes tangled on a fishing net and drowns. A decade later, a teenage Elli (Ilona Huhta) and Juha are living together in something like comfort, albeit for the fact she’s oblivious to the fact her dad likes to masturbate while wearing his dead wife’s clothes over his face and spraying her perfume. One day, he blunders accidentally into a scarlet-hued sex dungeon – we’ve all been there, right? – and is mistaken for a client by dominatrix Mona (Krista Kosonen), who promptly chokes him and stabs his fingernail with a stiletto.
Anyone else might chalk that up as a bad experience, but Juha is invigorated by the visions of his wife he experienced while on the brink of losing consciousness. Soon, he’s regularly visiting Mona and requesting increasingly dangerous sessions of erotic asphyxiation, in which he is humiliated by Mona – the title is how she commands him to strip naked – before she puts a plastic bag over his head and chokes him until he releases a glass ball into a metal bowl, in lieu of being able to yell a safe word.
It’s fair to say, given all of that, that Dogs Don’t Wear Pants has an unusual tonal balance to strike. Thankfully, the distinctly Nordic sensibility of director and co-writer Valkeapää is able to weather every abrupt swerve between genres, from jet black comedy through to borderline torture porn in some of the more explicitly violent set pieces. His direction elegantly contrasts the pristine, clinical world of Juha’s day job – he’s a surgeon – and the oppressive crimson glow of Mona’s sex basement. Every element of an hour in Mona’s company is an escape for him, freedom from the life he is somewhat sleepwalking through day to day.
The same is true for Mona, played with layers of pain and complexity by Krista Kosonen. Smartly, the movie depicts her as often in her day job – a tender, gentle physiotherapist – as it does in her skin-tight leather, engaged in acts of graphic urolagnia. That’s not one to Google in the office on your coffee break. The relationship between these two tortured people is transactional, of course, but it’s more profound than that. This bizarre extremity is giving both of them what they need to avert the strains of their life.
There’s a perfect symbiosis here between the excess of the material and the under-played performances. Kosonen does a great deal with widened eyes and furtive looks, while Strang’s deadpan delivery amplifies the dark comedy and allows the audience to feel the emptiness he possesses. Juha is not always a sympathetic character – his obsession leaves his intelligent, effervescent daughter in the lurch far too often – but there’s something about Strang’s performance that imbues the most pathetic of moments with a warmth and, crucially, a humanity that makes the character believable.
This is a unique tale of obsession, in which the trajectory is from detachment to warmth, rather than the other way around. There are elements of Vertigo in the way Juha attempts to change Mona to fit his fantasy, but she seizes back agency through the power dynamic of their sexual transactions, culminating in a graphic finale that pushes each of their desires to breaking point and beyond. With the help of the strange staccato bursts of Michal Nejtek’s idiosyncratic score, this is a movie about excess that feels perfectly in control of its own passions.
Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is a tough watch that almost dares its audience to turn away from its world of left-field desires and fetishes. For those willing to stay, though, it’s a deliciously devilish deadpan comedy with a surprisingly sweet final note of hope. In a world of darkness and sadness, the red glow of a sex dungeon is no weirder a place to seek comfort than anywhere else.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.