George Jaques’ directorial debut Black Dog is one of the most promising indie showings at this year’s London Film Festival. The title is a common metaphor for depression, one of the main topics covered in the feature. It follows two London teenagers, Nathan (Jamie Flatters) and Sam (Keenan Munn-Francis), forming an unlikely – albeit extremely volatile – friendship as they road trip across England. Both have their reasons for leaving. Nathan wants to reunite with his sister; Sam hopes to deliver something for his mother. Aside from depression and mental health struggles, the film tackles child abandonment, euthanasia, an unhealthy relationship with food and coping mechanisms as exercises of control. As weighty as some of these topics are, Black Dog enthralls with fantastic performances from its two main leads.
Nathan and Sam cannot be more different from each other. While Nathan is free-spirited, rebellious and impulsive, Sam is a little more structured, uptight and anxious. Their acute difference is the main crux of their relationship, pushing and pulling each other, drawing lines and constantly crossing them. One minute they’re bonding over alcohol, the next they’re giving each other the silent treatment. As soon as they get along, something happens that irks the other and puts a further strain on their growing friendship. But despite their clash in personalities, the two find common ground in their struggles with death in their families and the hope for something better tomorrow.
A particularly interesting character is Nathan for his loose morality and understanding of his misgivings, especially towards his treatment of Sam. He’s an extreme contradiction, claiming to be against giving people false hope while simultaneously continuing to believe in the seemingly impossible notion of seeing his sister. Nathan being so fleshed-out is attributed to Flatters co-writing the script. Sam, for his part, has strong trust in Nathan as a good person – despite knowing everything Nathan has done, including stealing his money. The two balance each other out: Nathan teaches Sam to have a little fun and learn independence, and Sam finds reason in Nathan’s reckless behaviour and grounds him.
The film emphasises their co-dependent dynamic through symmetry, specifically focused on creating side-by-side shots and mirror shots. These are especially prominent in sequences within the car, as the framing focuses heavily on the driver and the front passenger seats. Other instances include scenes of them lying next to each other on the bed, as well as eating across the table from each other. Other visual tells of their turbulent relationship are the constant camera movements and the oscillating narrative of past and present, highlighting their very different upbringing and experiences in life.
Black Dog is overall a brilliant debut for Jaques. The acting is impeccable and the story has so much to give and explore. The 96-minute runtime feels entirely too short, and it’s that bittersweet tang of separation and understanding that lingers still in the viewers’ hearts.
Black Dog does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2023 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Black Dog here: