Film Review – Dogs Don’t Wear Pants (2019)

2020 has been a challenging year to say the least. COVID-19 has swept across the world and claimed almost a million lives. The way we live our lives day-to-day has completely changed. This includes how we watch films. Cinemas in the UK have only just reopened now that things are beginning to settle down and become more manageable.

From the middle of March onwards, the possibility of experiencing new films in the ultimate way was robbed of us. We’ve all had to adapt to watching the films we know and love from the comfort of our homes, whether that be through streaming platforms, or having splashed out on a bunch of DVD and Blu-rays from Amazon and hmv. It isn’t quite the same as a trip to the cinema however. Nothing quite compares to seeing a film on the big screen. You aren’t gifted the sound, quality or the experience.

One film I – personally was eager to see in cinemas pre-lockdown was Finnish film, Dogs Don’t Wear Pants. Sadly, the opportunity was taken away from me as its initial cinema release was March 20 and the UK’s lockdown began on March 16.

With that in mind, I was determined to watch J-P Valkeapää’s film this year one way or another. And fortunately, I have through the magic of rental streaming. Thank you Amazon Prime! Once again, they’ve aided me through those lockdown blues.

The film in question, J-P Valkeapää’s Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is hardcore. So hardcore it makes the 50 Shades trilogy seem family-friendly and Christian Grey look like what the kids call, “a simp”.

Opening in an idyllic, undisclosed location in Finland we are rather morbidly introduced to the films narrative with the scene of a man trying to rescue his already dead wife trapped under water. In the process, Juha (Pekka Strang) too almost drowns. Thankfully for him, he is pulled out by a passing fisherman – all before the eyes of his infant daughter, Elli.

Now a teenager, a decade or so later Elli (Ilona Huhta) has her tongue pierced on her birthday. Wandering downstairs into the basement of the piercing studio, out of nowhere Juha is knocked over and held in a stranglehold by Mona (Krista Kosonen), a dominatrix who operates a sex dungeon of wicked, submissive sexual fantasies in the bowels of the studio basement. The resulting sense of suffocation gives Juha a taste to feel his wife’s watery ill-fate. He wishes to be choked unconscious almost to the brink of death so that he can too drown – feeling grief and despair.

A pretty weird kink, right? I thought (and still think) so to, but please read on.

Fantasising of his wife’s embrace during suffocation, Juha begins to regularly meet Mona. In a series of sessions that see Juha subject to dog-like acts (hence the title), Mona pushes the boundaries of how far Juha is willing to go to reach his climax. Latex and leather, whips and chains, leashes and leads, plastic bags and cling film (or Saran wrap if you’re American), an assortment of coloured wigs, pliers, and…urinating…are all instruments in Mona’s arsenal of sadomasochistic escapades. After you’ve seen this film, you’ll never look at a leather jacket quite the same again. The sound of squeaking leather will send you into a frenzy of cold sweat and prudishness.

Juha’s encounters with Mona becomes an addiction for him. His obsessive pursuit of exploring his unresolved feelings of grief and guilt, and dicing with death begins to threaten his everyday life as a cardiothoracic surgeon, as well as his relationship with estranged adolescent daughter, Elli. It’s rather ironic that the cardiothoracic surgeon is the one who is unable to mend his own broken heart.

As for the plot, I’m going to leave it there. I’m not going to give away the whole story. Where’s the fun in that? I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you’re brave enough to give Dogs Don’t Wear Pants a watch.

Rolling back to my opening statement, this film is hardcore. It’s a latex-endorsed fever dream. A gorgeously-lit-and-shot Technicolor nightmare that will make even the strongest of stomachs churn. There’s enough on-screen sexual obedience in the films runtime that will leave you cringing so hard that your teeth may shatter if you applied any more pressure. That being said, you’re drawn to it like your drawn to scratching a mouth ulcer with your tongue. If you start an experience with this film, you should sure-as-shit be committed to seeing it through to the end! Much like the films context, you are submissive to its tale. Complicit to the firm grip it has around your throat. A grip that doesn’t let go, no matter how much you beg for respite. But that’s exactly what it wants. The larger picture isn’t in its nail-biting, eye-watering horror-immersed BDSM scenes, but rather its perverse romantic subtext.

Dogs Don’t Wear Pants serves as an insight into the underbelly of sex workers. Though Mona is a supportive and hospitable physiotherapist by day, by night she’s an empowered dominatrix who bestows gratification in other’s deepest and wildest sexual fantasies. At face value, Mona’s choice of work reinforces the values that men (and women) will go to the most extreme of depths to “get their end away”. We are barbarians and that’s okay. I’m not a prude. Juha willingly exploits and belittles himself in order to find the closure he seeks on his wife’s passing, as I’m sure any man or woman would if they were given the correct guidance into find oneself. Mona’s power to give Juha his healing through the language of kink is deeply compassionate.

Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is a sex-positive tale. It acts as a powerful metaphor for how badly we yearn to hold onto memories of loved ones we have lost, told through J-P Valkeapää’s submissive and tender gaze. A metaphor I’m sure many can relate to as we continue to adapt to life with COVID-19‘s continuous and ruinous force. In the wake of COVID-19 at its mightiest, we have all taken a blow. Whether you have lost loved ones, lost your job or been unable to participate in your interest and hobbies, we are looking for solace. Cinema is just one of many ways we can escape the morbidity of what’s going on in the world and find that solace, even for the briefest of moments. J-P Valkeapää‘s provocative feature gifts us with that escapism and the hope for a brighter future.

Drama, Romance | Finland, 2019 | 18 | Blu-Ray | Anti-Worlds Releasing | Dir.J.-P. Valkeapää | Pekka Strang, Krista Kosonen, Ilona Huhta | Find original Review here