White God opens with a tracking shot of a young girl as she rides through the deserted streets of an empty city. She passes a car that still has the engine running and the lights flashing, but the owner is nowhere to be seen. Then suddenly from behind her we hear a noise that grows louder. Could it be the horde of zombies we assume has overrun this apocalyptic aesthetic? Well no actually, as it’s not the undead that roam the streets here. As the girl turns to look behind, a large pack of wild dogs round the corner and begin to hurtle towards her.
Jump back a few days, and the girl is revealed to be Lili (Zsofia Psotta), a tween trumpet-player who is being forced to stay with her estranged dad (Sandor Zsoter) after her mother leaves town. To add friction to their already strained relationship, Lili’s father has no desire to look after her pet dog Hagen, and eventually abandons him in a fit of rage. Unfortunately for him and everyone else, this sets off a chain of events that eventually sees Hagen join paws with his fellow canines, and rise up to exact revenge on the humans who have mistreated them in the past.
There’s no denying that, on paper, this possibly sounds like one of the best ever ideas for a film. And certainly, when we reach the final act, Mundruczo’s vision of a doggie uprising is brought to fruition in a delightfully gory and technically extraordinary way. The problem is that, at close to 2 hours in length, the script (co-written by Mundruczo, Viktoria Petranyi, & Kata Weber) takes far too long to get there.
While the set-up is proficiently handled, the middle act is almost strained to breaking point. Having established their story and become fully aware of where it is heading, the writers struggle to find a way of pushing the narrative forward at a succinct pace. Despite assured performances from Psotta and Zsoter, the generic conventions of their character’s relationship fails to hold our attention like it should, constantly undoing the tension that is built up during the far superior scenes involving Hagen and his fellow mutts. Before long we find ourselves wishing that the film would dispense with its human element entirely.
When we do finally reach the film’s original start point, things do take a turn for the better. Masterfully juggling a cast that consists of 100+ astonishingly well trained dogs, Mundruczo masterfully plays with the conventions of a zombie apocalypse, crafting a fast flowing final third that’s admirable, audacious, and suffused with growing dread, dark humour, and suitably ominous undertones thanks to Asher Goldschmidt’s superb score.
The shame is that due to the bloated middle section, the whole thing never quite satisfies. To try and maintain a human presence is understandable, but it’s ultimately unnecessary, and causes White God to never reach its barking best.