Baxter (1989)

baxter

While I stand by my belief that human beings are the only creatures capable of true, premeditated evil, a film premise concerning a homicidal, misanthropic dog with a razor-sharp human intellect was too fascinating to pass up. That’s what this movie is all about, really… even if it’s rough around the edges in some parts and so, so hard to watch at others, you can’t fault it for creativity. For a dog, who is considered ‘man’s best friend’ and a protector of humankind, to be a incarnation of human’s worst qualities, is a innovative idea, to say the least.  But, ultimately, one can’t help but feel sympathy for the titular Baxter. As always, the ‘superior’ evil of man wins over the force of a clawed, toothed animal’s will.

We are introduced to Baxter’s world in a distorted, bizarre sequence featuring the dogs in a pound making a ruckus and baring their teeth. It’s a normal real-life scene, except for the way it’s handled, which is uncanny and eerie at best, completely surrealistic and mundanely terrifying at worst. This sets up the development of the canine anti-hero, a bull terrier who should be considered immoral and malicious, to say the least. Meet Baxter. He’s not like other dogs.

Baxter is adopted and given to an elderly lady (Lise Delamare) as a birthday present by her daughter. To say that Baxter dislikes the old woman is an understatement. Bored and infuriated by the uneventful life of a docile, neglected house pet, Baxter knocks the old woman down the stairs twice, finally killing her.

After the lady’s death, Baxter goes looking for a perfect human to spend the rest of his life with, ideally, one who ‘feels neither love nor fear’ (Baxter’s ugly thoughts are brought to life by the late French actor Maxime Leroux, who maintains a creepy, almost sociopathic inflection throughout.) After another failed endeavor aimed at finding the ideal master, Baxter gets saddled with Charles (François Driancourt,) a sicko adolescent obsessed with Hitler. At first Baxter finds he can respect the youth’s nihilistic worldview, but what is the price of this twisted partnership? And when the boy’s degenerate behavior surpasses that of even Baxter, what price will be paid?

Firstly, if you find yourself particularly unnerved by cruelty towards animals in movies, don’t bother to watch this movie. It won’t inspire you, ingratiate you, or offer you anything but hopelessness and violence. However, if you like dark, unusual films with a hint of horror, this might prove to be your type of flick. I wouldn’t necessarily characterize “Baxter” as black comedy, though there are certainly some who may disagree with me on that point. Despite a lack of likable characters, the movie becomes twistier and more tragic by the minute.

I really liked the scenes shot from Baxter’s point of view. The choice to make the actor who plays Charles so young was a good one- his youth paired with his complete ammorality makes the situation all the more disturbing (it deserves to be mentioned that the kid actor does a very good job, despite this being his only movie.)

I was a little quizzical about the portrayal of the human characters. Maybe it was written as such to drive home Baxter’s belief about the inferiority of certain people, which ties into the kid’s Neo-Nazi ideology, but the people featured in the film display a dazzling ignorance. From the rotten teen’s parents, who decide not to confront him about his Nazi paraphernalia because he’s ‘going through a phase’ to the pretty brunette who sleeps with the youth after he compares her beauty to that of Eva Braun, the humans don’t seem to have a brain among them.

This mostly works, except for one scene that almost ruined the movie for me in it’s ridiculousness. Let me set the scene, if I may, of a couple (Jany Gastaldi and Jacques Spiesser)   that have adopted Baxter (post- dead old lady but pre- Nazi scuzzbucket.)

The duo have a new baby who Baxter has a deep and abiding hatred for. The baby has almost fallen (or been pushed?) into the fountain in the yard once, so what do the mom and dad do? They go in to have sex, leaving the tyke on the lawn. Whether or not you know the dog is trying to kill the baby (which you wouldn’t, let’s be honest,) would you leave the child in a yard with a fountain he has a propensity for crawling toward? No.

Pretending two people of non-retarded intelligence would do this just to advance the plot is lame to say the least. But if you overlook that scene (argh,) “Baxter” is a thought-provoking film and a singularly bizarre character study. I would like to get a hold of the book on which it was based, “Hell Hound” by Ken Greenhall. Also, is it weird that now I want a bull terrier? 😛

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