CRIMEWATCH: Man Bites Dog
Man Bites Dog is a film that I had been trying to find for a while. A DVD eluded my grasp but I was pleasantly surprised to find the film available on YouTube. You can watch it there if a DVD is not available. I really like the title, “Man Bites Dog”. It’s obscure and peaks the interest of any potential viewers, and it has great relevance to the film, in a metaphorical way. Man Bites Dog is a Belgian film, the full original title is C’est arrivé près de chez vous which means “It happened in your neighborhood.” The film wants to convey a strong sense of reality immediately.
Man Bites Dog is a found footage film. I am not a big fan of the genre. I would almost say I hate the whole genre but there are of course a few exceptions. Most found footage films are simply terrible. An example would be Paranormal Activity which is dreadful and there are other awful exorcism subgenre films than I care to list. An example of a recent good found footage film would be the horror film V/H/S (which I plan to review eventually). So, is Man Bites Dog one of the few good found footage films? The footage that has been found is a documentary that was being made by a crew of independent filmmakers focusing on the day to day activities of a serial killer. I find Man Bites Dog’s concept to be fascinating. It’s such an interesting idea and makes for a great film. The found footage effect is completely necessary in this film. Found footage is much more understandable when it has a central purpose to the plot. Here’s an example: Man Bites Dog needed the found footage effect as part of the story. A film such as End of Watch (while being a good film) did not need to have the found footage effect. Change a couple lines of dialogue and it would have been just as effective.
Man Bites Dog is known as a dark comedy. The comedic element of the film is actually a major selling point, even the tagline promotes this ideal saying “A killer comedy”. I actually did not think of it as a comedy. I feel that this could be misleading to some viewers. There are some funny moments, but it’s not a comedy in the traditional sense. It’s the absurdity of the situation and the reactions of the characters that bring the comedy. Calling Man Bites Dog a comedy is like calling The Terminator a love story. Yeah there are some underlying themes and few key moments that represent the genre, but it’s not the central point, nor is it focused on a great deal.
Man Bites Dog is a hard film to classify. It’s very strange, which is a big reason of why it’s so effective. When picking a genre, I would say it’s close to horror but not in the traditional sense of course. Man Bites Dog is horror in the way that Red State is horror. The events that take place are based in reality and could actually happen. The actions of the characters are truly “Horrifying” from a real world stand point. The fact that these things could very easily occur is what makes the situation frightening.
The main character is serial killer named Benoit, played by a man who is also named Benoit. In fact, most of the cast use their real names. They’re even playing themselves in way. In the film is a camera crew and director, playing the camera crew and director. It’s strange to think that this guy who is killing people is playing himself. Benoit is a very interesting character. He’s not a mindless killer like Jason, and he’s not a high class intellectual like Hannibal Lecter, he’s closer to a normal guy. I think this makes the situation all the more tense. Here is a guy who can blend perfectly into society while committing heinous acts. In fact there are scenes with Benoit’s parents who are his real parents. They thought that it was an actual documentary on their son, they didn’t know that he was portraying a serial killer. Benoit is an uncompromising killer who kills mainly just for entertainment. He also steals from the people he kills, but the money is not what he’s after. Benoit oddly has a poetic nature about him. He even recites a full piece about pigeons. He makes stark commentaries on life while taking it away from others. He satirizes what is acceptable in society while breaking preset taboos.
Benoit is the main focus of the film. He spends most of the run time talking to the camera, but there are other characters like the film crew, which consists of three people at any given time. They are poorly developed aside from Remy the director. He is a well constructed character and you follow his progression throughout the film. The other film crew members are completely uninteresting. The things that happen to them have very little impact due to their lack of build up. Most of the people in the film are simply those who get killed, there are some minor characters but no one that stands out.
Right from the opening shot of the film, the tone is set. A shocking display of violence taking place in a crowded public area. That sets most of the film up from there, aside from the social commentary. The murder is not glorified, it’s realistic. The filmmakers did not build sets for the film, they went out and found places where they could kill people, and places where they could dispose of the bodies. The areas are real locations in the city where the film was shot i.e. true guerilla filmmaking.
Man Bites Dog is a truly unique experience. It’s unlike any film I’ve seen before. The film does drag a bit towards the end. To clarify, it feels as though it would have been just shy of a feature so they added a few scenes as fluff. The scenes aren’t completely bad, but they do feel out of place and unnecessary, almost out of character. The film seems as though it has two endings. The movie hits a spot where it could end, then continues a little further only to end right after that.
Man Bites Dog is an incredible experimental experience and should get more recognition for it’s ingenuity. It’s interesting that the filmmakers never went on to do any other films. The main actor Benoit has, but Remy Belvaux the main director stopped after just one film. He did some commercials afterwards but no features or even short films. Perhaps it’s a case of a man feeling the need to tell just this one story. Maybe he thought he had completed his masterpiece and wanted to go out on top. Maybe he just couldn’t think of anything else. I don’t know, I’d really like to, but I don’t.
There is a very strange case that I just found out about recently. There is a sequel to Man Bites Dog. Yeah, it’s just called “Man Bites Dog: The Sequel”. It came out in 2012 a full 20 years after the original, and it doesn’t feature any of the same cast members. The character of Benoit is in it but with a different actor. Now normally I would just assume that this was a fan film. It takes place in New York this time, so I would figure that someone saw the original and really liked it and decided to make a fan tribute sequel where they lived. The really weird thing is that one of the writers of the film is named Remy Belvaux which is the filmmaker of the original film. That is really weird. Did this guy change his name or did he just happen to have the same name as the guy who wrote the original movie? That would be very weird. It’s even weirder considering the real Remy Belvaux committed suicide. It’s a very strange case. I would like to know more information on this.
Man Bites Dog is definitely worth watching. It’s not for the casual viewer and it may require you to be in a specific morbid mood, but it is one of the best found footage films I’ve seen to date, and is an incredibly interesting profile of a serial killer, done with a low budget which only enhances the effect. It’s both controversial and morbid, but a well done cinematic experience.