If there’s anyone who watched Fifty Shades of Grey and was unsatisfied with…well, everything, then I advise you to check out the Finnish film Dogs Don’t Wear Pants. Co-written and directed by J.-P. Valkeapää, it’s the BDSM love story that people (or maybe just a few select people) have been waiting for.
I’ll be blunt here; this film is not for everyone. It would be shunned by “normies”. The village people will come with their torches and pitchforks if recommended to them. It’s not only extremely sexual in nature but also a bit grotesque, small stuff that will make you squirm (nail pulling, wax melting on a person’s skin). However, don’t let that or the leather-clad woman that could be Pinhead’s niece on the front cover fool you. This is not a horror movie.
I know some might assume that it is because it’s on Shudder and deals with sadomasochism, but Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is not horror. Although it is exceptionally dark. The horror presented in the story comes from emotional turmoil and mental anguish.
The lost connection
A widower, Juha (Pekka Strang) is unable to move on after his wife’s death. Years of loneliness makes him desperate for an intimate connection with another human being. The film opens with his wife (Ester Geislerová) going for a swim in a lake outside their house while he’s sleeping. He’s awoken by their crying daughter and realizes that his wife has gotten trapped in their fishing net.
By the time he realizes this it is too late. She’s drowned, and he almost drowns trying to save her. Suffocating underwater, tangled in both her hair and the net, he imagines swimming beside her as he drifts towards death. That’s the moment a fishing boat hauls him up, saving his life.
His existence then comes to a halt. Not just because he’s lost his wife, but because he feels that he should have died with her. Even though he has their daughter to care for, death becomes an anesthetic fantasy for Juha.
Here, pain isn’t pleasure but a reminder
In the beginning, Juha is very robotic. He cleans the house, does his job, and speaks to his daughter as if he’s never 100% present; he has forgotten how to feel. Although he continues to crave his wife’s presence, he’s grown accustomed to life without her. He’s losing more and more and soon, there’ll be nothing left. Things change, however, when he meets Mona (Krista Kosonen), a mysterious dominatrix that, at her core, is as vulnerable as Juha. By the way, if the title doesn’t make sense to you, it will once you see Mona and Juha’s first “session”.
Through Mona, Juha is able to temporarily reunite with his wife to the point where the lines start to blur. His mind and heart begin to see Mona as the woman that he’s lost. It’s an extremely unusual form of therapy. Mona is no dummy by the way. She can see that Juha wants to die, that he misses someone, and it breaks her heart. They’re two broken souls looking for love.
Their relationship is treated almost like an addiction, and just like any other addiction, the question of their next fix is always on their minds. More so in Juha’s case, but there’s a complication in the form of his alienated daughter Elli (Ilona Huhta). He tries to maintain an aura of normalcy around her but he fails spectacularly. Hard to act normal when you come home every day covered in bruises.
Elli is actually the one thing I would change about this movie. A potentially vital character reduced to a background display. She’s a lonely teenager with a father who skips her music concert to be strangled by a dominatrix. She’s used only to further deepen the weight of Juha’s home life.
Wicked but beautiful
This is a twisted movie. There is no other way to say it, though it’s not what I expected. The same way you’d break away a shell to see what’s inside, the characters tear away their former identities to get at the untouched being hiding underneath in a most uncomfortable way.
The force behind Mona and Juha’s connection is almost overbearing. Just the way the heroine slaps her clients, Dogs Don’t Wear Pants slaps you hard across the face, or whips you across the face. Whichever you prefer. In the end, Juha doesn’t reunite with his wife, but he gets a proper goodbye. A way to move on.
Aside from Elli, the only other character the film should have spent more time on is Mona. She’s the center of Juha’s world but we hardly know anything about her. She has her own troubles. That much is clear, but the film keeps her at a distance. Treating her like a mythical creature that Juha comes across and worships. The rest of the film is great though. A true arthouse production.(3.5 / 5)
All photos are property of Shudder and the Helsinki Filmi production company