Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Pet - BDSM Film Review


A while ago while looking for a completely different movie, I came upon The Pet, a BDSM-related story. Being a masochist and fan of the BDSM genre in general, I watched it anyway. It’s pretty bad. Some movies are so bad they’re good… This isn’t one of them. It doesn’t seem to understand what it’s trying to be, and while I think it was trying to present an open-minded perspective of alternative relationships, it comes off decidedly negative in its portrayal of BDSM. The most overt way this is so is through the unfortunate conflation of consensual “slavery” role-play with real world human trafficking.


The plot starts off with evil human traffickers enslaving people. There’s a nude female slave getting branded. There’s a weaselly guy marking women for abduction as they walk down the street. Then there’s this guy Pauli and his girlfriend, Nikki, who visit a loan shark. Pauli begs for more money even though he can’t pay back the loan shark, so the loan shark takes his girlfriend as leverage to make sure Pauli pays up on time. She’s stripped naked, forced to put on a collar, etc. and we get the distinct impression he’s never letting her go.

Meanwhile, there’s a young woman named Mary who’s down on her luck. She’s poor, her cat just died, and she’s been spotted by the weaselly guy. Phillip, a lonely rich guy associated with the traffickers, stages a run-in with her. They bond over the fact that they both have had beloved pets die, and he invites her to come to his fancy estate to bury her cat. She’s reluctant, so he gives her a lot of money as a gift, and she then accepts.

Once there, he introduces her to his maid, an ex-slave he purchased, and apparently the only staff on his huge property. The three then have a funeral for the cat. Over dinner, he brings up BDSM, notes that he finds Mary submissive, and asks if she has ever had any interest in being in a BDSM relationship. She says she thinks everyone’s a little curious about it, and he suggests that she be his submissive. After a moment expressing surprise, she accepts.

He then starts using her to replace his dog by having her put on the dog’s shock collar, a metal deal she can’t take off on her own. She’s stripped, told not to speak, made to live in a pyramidal cage, and he takes her on walks around the estate, etc. and he renames her GG (for Good Girl). There’s a series of scenes with her pet training, and I’m not sure whether or not it’s intended to be sexy. After the first day, he lets her speak. She indicates that she feels manipulated, that the whole thing was just orchestrated by Phillip to have her as his naked pet, and he rebukes her by pointing out that she really came to bury her cat and that’s the real point of the visit and he’s still going to pay her. He offers to stop the BDSM and just continue as friends, but she ultimately agrees to do it for the second day. Cue more (sexy?) pet scenes.

So, she makes it the second day, and he makes her a new offer. If she agrees to be his pet for another six months, he’ll pay her $50,000 in addition to her $10,000 for doing it two days. She accepts, and cue another round of pet scenes. Phillip decides that he wants to show off his new pet to his fellow pet-owning colleagues… except these people are actually the human traffickers. He brands GG and gives her an ear tag to mark her as his property and therefore not on the market, and they go to a retreat thing in the mountains.

Phillip takes GG for a walk naked on the leash, and they run into… the loan shark guy with Nikki (now Taps) on his leash. The pets by now are all brainwashed into being effectively dogs (WTFrak??), so GG doesn’t care that Nikki’s there against her will. Phillip shares his training techniques and they have the pets race to see who’s faster.

Then there’s a party where the slavers’ boss proudly declares that the “human trafficking” business has never done better. She actually calls it that. There’s also a bit where a slaver marvels that the government hasn’t done anything about their business despite media attention. Wow. Subtlety; heard of it?

Phillip’s disloyal friend (servant?) then gets into a conflict with him, and as revenge doesn’t call attention to the fact that GG’s ownership coin fell out of Phillip’s pocket. He swipes it and has GG officially purchased. Phillip, of course, refuses to let him take GG, asserting that it’s a misunderstanding, and he takes GG back to his estate.

The villains, however, send their version of a SWAT team in to abduct GG to sell her organs on the black market. Phillip manages to fight the goons off, but not before GG is injected with a substance that will paralyze and kill her. Phillip and his maid don’t know this, and the maid tells GG her ‘submission, yay!’-type story and how she’s sure everything will work out right. During the night, GG senses she’s dying, comes out of her submissive haze and struggles against her restraints for a moment, before giving up and accepting them. The maid finds her body and cries, and then we see a very sorrowful Phillip with her ashes. The movie narrative ends with the weaselly guy on the prowl once more.

Before the credits, we get some text about how consensual role-play is fine, but real slavery isn’t! There’s then a list of countries where people are enslaved and where they are sold. The movie ends on the note that slavery is a serious issue and it is evil… and that BDSM is closely linked with it.

The movie was written and directed by D Stevens, who made it because he wanted to alert audiences to contemporary slavery and the cultural mindset that promotes slavery. He has a video on the movie’s official website, where he talks about this, and he also has a website here. On the site, he has a page about The Pet with content reproduced from the site BDSM Movie Review, hosted by the porn site Spank the Bitch, which gives the movie a very favorable review. Looking at the review site, though, it seems that its focus is on the erotic appeal of movies in the specific category of having female bottoms. Unless it’s a straight-up porn video, though, I don’t think whether or not a movie is hot should be its principle deciding factor of whether or not it’s a good movie. BDSM Movie Review does bring up the fact that Mary/GG says that submission is worthwhile even without the money, and they say that this shows D Stevens has the right understanding of BDSM, but I respectfully disagree with this position.

The movie consistently portrays BDSM as something bad. The main dominant character is evil. His relationship with Mary/GG is abusive. He deliberately manipulates her into becoming his pet and convinces her that her suspicions of him are her own issues with trust. His paying her at all makes this sex work, and not a caring relationship of mutual appreciation. His principle motivation is his wanting to replace his dog with a woman (what the hell?). Even if their relationship can be considered alright (and that’s hard to swallow), he’s still involved with human trafficking, and he brings her to the traffickers’ convention. All examples of petplay are associated with these traffickers, and their use is for shock value. Viewers are left with a sense of how horrible it is to treat women like dogs.

D Stevens seems to be straddling the fence when it comes to the BDSM community. On one hand, he welcomes the good review of BDSM Movie Review. He’s fine with is film being considered erotic and touching by a BDSM site. On the other hand, he displays great disrespect toward the BDSM community. Though he acknowledges some people can like submission and refers to the possibility of consensual relationships, the film’s message is to regard sadists with suspicion because they’re probably slavers or at least abusive. In his behind the scenes video, he describes BDSM site The Slave Register as potentially supporting real slavers. On the IMDB page for the movie, the summary supplied by D Stevens includes the words “inspired by the prevalence of more-or-less consensual slave/master related lifestyles” (my stylizing), and places facts about BDSM alongside discussion of human trafficking, conflating the two to the reader. His most positive portrayal of BDSMers is of a curious little subculture that doesn’t realize they’re supporting real slavery. I feel BDSM Movie Review is lacking for failing to make note of the director’s biases in this area.

Technically, the creator’s view of his work needn’t impact how it is perceived. Death of the Author, and all. It’s pretty hard to divorce The Pet from the director’s message, though. D Stevens apparently has never heard of subtlety.

I suppose I should mention some things I did like. Well… I like that the portrayal of the slavers isn’t limited to men abusing women. One of the bosses is a woman who abuses men. It’s cool that female strength and male weakness in these unfavorable ways can be noted. I also like actress Summer Nguyen’s performance as Nikki/Taps. She really gets into moving like a dog, always looking around and stuff. She’s probably the best actor in the movie.

On that note, one thing I liked that the director definitely didn’t intend involves Phillip. Phillip has a distinctive accent that he says is of Liechtenstein. This accent coupled with actor Pierre Dulat’s wooden acting gives me flashbacks of Tommy Wiseau. At various points in the movie, I’d just giggle when he spoke.

Did I find it sexy? Well, yes, in parts. I like when Phillip doesn’t let Mary sit next to him on the bench to share his dessert. She sits down on the floor, and he lowers spoonfuls of whipped cream into her mouth while she looks up submissively. That’s before Phillip officially starts dominating her, and it seems more authentic. I also liked various bits of her as the pet, especially the scene where he collars her, but the pet scenes are all rather tainted by D Stevens’ disapproval.

In general, this is a bad movie. The acting is so-so, and the plot is about as valid as a Chick Tract. It’s all set up as a piece of propaganda about human trafficking, which would be hard to watch anyway, but the association with and portrayal of BDSM is beyond insulting. Though the film may have erotic appeal to some sadist/masochist types, this to me is outweighed by the sense of judgment D Stevens has placed throughout the film.

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