Review: Moon Dogs dir. Philip John

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The teenage years are always a tough time, particularly on the cusp of adulthood. But when you have a streak of bad luck, it could seem like the end of the world.

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Moon Dogs follows incredibly unlucky teenager Michael (Jack Parry Jones) as he collapses during his A-levels in truly spectacular fashion, his ex-girlfriend moves to Glasgow, and he works unhappy days in a stinking fishing factory. To top it all off, he’s still trying to get used to his weird new stepbrother Thor (Christy O’Donnel), an electronic musician facing his own troubles fitting in to Shetland, while his Viking obsessed dad (hence his name) fails to bond with him.

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It stands to reason then, that Michael acts out and goes off on an epic roadtrip from Shetland to Glasgow to win back the girl of his dreams. Somehow, Thor manages to get roped in as the two find themselves en route through a series of unlikely coincidences, and encounter the mysterious Caitlin (Tara Lee), an aspiring singer on her way to Glasgow herself. Together, the three make their way to Glasgow via boat, hitchhiking, breaking in to country houses, and busking their way to their final destination.

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Chaos is abound is Moon Dogs at every step of the way, and as unlikely as the events are, there’s a natural, believable way the cast plays them that makes them feel as possible as waking up in bed the next morning. Whether it’s the hapless naivete of Michael, the eccentric artistry of Thor or the free spirited, devil may care attitude of Caitlin, the young cast lend a charming likability to their characters, each one brimming with reckless youth while nursing silent insecurities, and share an incredible chemistry that imbues the narrative with a genuine sense of love and an ease to caring about these youths.

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As much as the main cast have done well, the long trip through the Scottish countryside is a character in itself as well, as our protagonists hike up mountains and get stoned in the woods, and dwarfs the cast with its hugeness, its majesty and grandeur. Philip John employs some fascinating directorial decisions along the way too, including an unforgettably weird puppet sequence, and an extended scene seen through the lens of Michael’s webcam, breaking the otherwise naturalistic film into the occasionally experimental, very fitting for a film about the uncertainties of growing up and coming of age.

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Philip John’s debut feature is a thoughtful, hilarious romp through the Scottish landscape, mixing and incredibly good chemistry between cast members to formulate a wonderful coming of age film that will make you yearn once more for the heyday of young love and the bonds of family. This is a film that will endear you to these youths in all their hopes and fears, and as the film closes, there’s an indescribable sense of relief and joy watching  these promising new talents get up onstage and perform one last number together, a little worse for the wear, but certainly miles wiser than when they first stepped out of Shetland.

MOON DOGS is in UK cinemas 1st September www.moondogsmovie.com

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