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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » White God (Blu-ray)
White God (Blu-ray)
Magnolia Home Entertainment // R // July 28, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted July 9, 2015 | E-mail the Author

Kornel Mundruczo's White God (2014) uncomfortably attempts to tell a familiar story from a new perspective. The director was reportedly inspired by a piece of legislation that proposed a tax on Hungarian citizens who owned mixed-breed dogs instead of purebreds, which should (hopefully) sound ridiculous no matter what country you're from. Thankfully, the law didn't pass...but in the world of White Dog, it did. 12 year-old Lili (newcomer Zsofia Psotta) is sent to stay with her father Daniel (Sandor Zsoter) while her mother is away on business with another man. Against her dad's wishes, Lili arrives with her mixed-breed dog Hagen (played by twin dogs Luke and Body), who represents another part of his former life that Daniel no longer wants. Hagen is treated as such: he eats dog food instead of the steak brought home from Daniel's job as a meat inspector, and he's forced to sleep in the bathroom.

That "mixed-breed" tax, along with Daniel's contempt for Lili's devotion to her dog, is what sends him over the edge. She's given a choice to send Hagen to a shelter---where the dog will most certainly be put down---or abandon him on the roadside, and she reluctantly chooses the latter. Naturally, the father and daughter's paper-thin relationship has completely dissolved at this point, and she eventually runs away looking to find Hagen. Unfortunately, he's been sold by a homeless man and brutally beaten by his new master with the intent of competing in dog fights. Eventually transferred to a shelter, Hagen and his fellow canines break free and revolt against a city who almost literally treated them like garbage. Raw and unflinching, White God attempts to blur the line between man and beast, but Lili's love for her dog is what ultimately drives the plot forward as they both attempt to overcome their own challenges.

White God would be a pretty tough watch at just 90 minutes, considering its gruesome portrayals of human behavior and animal abuse, but it stretches nearly two full hours and runs on fumes during the home stretch. The film's bold choice to parallel the hardships of young Lili with Hagen's fate sounds noble on paper, yet never really gels in practice. Her eventual decision to run away is punctuated by a late-night encounter with an older schoolmate and police trouble the next morning, after which her father does a complete 180 and outright begs her forgiveness. It makes for a nice breather during an otherwise almost totally bleak journey...but in all honesty, I cared less and less about the humans as White God lurched forward. Buy by the time our roving canine vigilantes enacted justice on their former captives like a slasher film, White God had exhausted all the good will built up during its first half.

The story's obvious representation of lower-class citizens as the dogs feels as subtle as a sledgehammer, but the real selling point of White God is a preface stating that some 280 dogs were used in its production; none were hurt, and all were transferred to proper homes after the low-budget film wrapped. This stands in jarring contrast to the film itself, which most dog lovers will not be able to sit through. I had less problems with its subject matter and brutal graphic violence---which, to be fair, is implied more than shown---than the film's pacing problems, uneven writing, and distracting hand-held camera work. Working with dogs (trained or not) doesn't lend itself to smooth, panning dolly shots, but I don't recall one moment where the camera didn't jiggle around like it was being held one-handed.

Nonetheless, White God raises some interesting questions about man vs. beast and, for obvious reasons, should be praised for its top-tier animal acting and the extremely uncomfortable illusion it creates. As a story, though, it feels like it's caught somewhere between drama, horror, and satire, but White God only succeeds as one any of those three about half the time. In any case, interested parties should enjoy Magnolia's new Blu-ray package, which serves up a capable A/V presentation and a few brief but well-meaning bonus features.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio, White God looks excellent in 1080p high definition. Despite my problems with the film's restless hand-held camerawork and claustrophobic framing (see above), there's no doubt that most everything about this Blu-ray about looks faithful to the film's theatrical presentation. Colors are evenly saturated and not prone to bleeding, image detail and textures look good, and black levels are also deep without crushing some of the film's more subtle shadow details. No flagrant digital imperfections or compression issues could be spotted along the way, aside from slight banding and a few moments of excessive noise during some of the film's more unusually-lit sequences. Overall, Magnolia's Blu-ray is a fine effort that should please fans and first-time viewers alike.

DISCLAIMER: The promotional images in this review are decorative and do not represent this DVD's native 480p image resolution.

The audio also carries its own weight. Hungarian DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is the only option here; it serves up clean and well-recorded dialogue with nicely balanced music cues that don't fight for attention. There are plenty of powerful moments here, from a handful of vicious human encounters to a throbbing club sequence that packs plenty of low-end and strong dynamic range. Surround use is limited during most of the film, but outdoor footage makes good use of bustling background noise and the urban atmosphere. Optional English subtitles and SDH captions translate the foreign dialogue and portions of on-screen text; Spanish and French subtitles are included as well.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

The interface is plain and simple, with separate options for chapter selection, subtitle setup, and extras, with minimal pre-menu distractions and a handy "resume" feature. This one-disc release is housed in an eco-friendly keepcase; no insert or slipcover are included, and the Blu-ray appears to be locked for Region "A" players only.

Bonus Features

Not too much, but what's here at least provides a surface-level overview of the production. Up first is a Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (18 minutes) featuring writer/director Kornel Mundruczo, screenwriter Kata Weber, animal coordinator/technical adviser Teresa Ann Miller, and more. It's mainly just sit-down interviews about the film's planning stages and unique challenges during production, including the dog-training aspects, shooting on location with a small budget, and working with a diverse cast and crew. Still, fans should enjoy it for the most part.

Two Interviews with Kornel Mundruczo (15 minutes) and Teresa Ann Miller (5 minutes, accompanied by one of the two dogs who played Hagen) are also included; some information is repeated from the featurette, and the latter doesn't go into any more detail about the dangers and difficulties of dog-wrangling on a large scale. Last but not least is the Trailer (2 minutes) which, like the other extras, includes forced subtitles for translation purposes only.

Final Thoughts

White God is more than half of an interesting movie....and for some, that'll be more than enough. It's impossible not to respect and admire the impressive animal acting, the real life issues that inspired the story, and the behind-the-scenes knowledge that nearly 300 dogs were rescued from shelters and placed in good homes after production wrapped. But it's also impossible to ignore the film's manipulative (and largely unearned) plot twists, excessive running time, and a third act that feels more like a campy slasher flick. As a whole, the film's wild mood swings just don't ring true and, as a result, White God keeps viewers at arm's length more often than not. It's worth watching for sure, but there's little here to encourage repeat viewing. Magnolia's Blu-ray serves up an excellent A/V presentation for this low-budget production; the bonus features are a little paint-by-numbers but still worth a once-over. Rent It.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.
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