Published Sep 19, 2018Pet Names is a film about death and grief, but it's not about the harrowing depths of sadness. Rather, it's about the mundane, day-to-day emotional attrition that so many people experience but rarely gets committed to film.
Leigh (screenwriter Meredith Johnson) is a grad-school dropout whose future is put on hold when she has to care for her bed-ridden, gravely ill mother. The family hires a nurse so that Leigh can get away for a few days, and on a whim she invites her ex-boyfriend Cam (Rene Cruz) on a camping trip. Added bonus: his cute, snuffly pug comes along.
Going to the woods without any plan for what to do once you get there is half the fun of camping. It does not, however, make for particularly gripping cinema. Cam regrettably brings his acoustic guitar along for the trip, meaning that audiences must suffer through some cringe-inducing improv tunes, and one particularly tedious scene features the pair on magic mushrooms while they talk nonsense and rub dirt on their faces.
There's a certain degree of will-they-won't-they drama between Leigh and Cam, but their titular "pet names" mostly consist of things like "dude," so their chemistry isn't exactly smouldering. Some of the most interesting moments come when they finally get into the nitty gritty of their backstory. For the most part, though, their dialogue favours banter over exposition.
When things finally get pseudo-romantic, there's always the shadow of Leigh's mother's illness hanging over everything. But even here, Pet Names doesn't cut quite deep enough. The sickness is never fully explained, and while Leigh alludes to her hopes for the future being dashed, there isn't a lot of introspection going on. The whole thing is only 76 minutes long, but Pet Names still feels like a boring, dragged out camping trip. (Shaky Balloon Productions)