You know the old joke that begins, “A man walks into a bar…” The payoff is usually some corny punch line that sharp observers see telegraphed from the outset. Patrick Muhlberger’s frenetic short film Hot Dog plays out like one of these hackneyed jokes. It’s all insanity and hysterics until the huge eye-roll of a punch line at the end.
The good news is that the film doesn’t overstay its welcome at barely 10-minutes long. Hot Dog is perfect as a short film, a filmed joke; if it were any longer, the film would be insufferable.
Co-workers Sean (Gabe Gibbs), Grace (Vic Michaelis), Christina (Marissa Rivera), and supervisor, Matt (Elisha Yaffe), are making their way back to work after a coffee run when they encounter a small, precious dog left alone in a car parked in the mall parking lot. The group wonders what kind of jerk would so cavalierly leave a dog in a car, with the window barely cracked, especially on a day predicted to be a scorcher.
“…making their way back to work after a coffee run when they encounter a small, precious dog left alone in a car…”
The comedy derives from Sean, Grace, and Christina desperately wanting to rescue the pooch, while Matt, who is not unsympathetic to the dog’s plight, nevertheless pouncing upon the moment to showcase his new supervisory role (be the big dog?) and get the group back to work. As the co-workers toss around ideas of how to proceed with their dilemma, each person gets distracted by their own self-involved interests (as youngsters are wont to do), and it falls on the harried Matt to resolve the crisis.
The movie, impressively filmed by cinematographer John Veleta, is composed in a seamless one-shot. As the events surrounding the co-workers and the trapped dog spiral more and more out of control, Veleta’s camerawork mirrors the frenzy. I lost count of the number of instances where the camera dizzyingly circles a character or characters, creating a disquieting sense of unease. Hot Dog is really, at its core, a cinematic illustration of anxiety. Hitchcock had Vertigo; Muhlberger has Hot Dog.
The acting by the four core members of the group is quite good and unaffected, with Yaffe’s Matt a particular standout. This poor guy is trying so hard to demonstrate some semblance of authority and leadership, but he is clearly overwhelmed by the tumult surrounding him. His tenuous command is easily undermined not only by his co-workers but also by a disinterested security guard (Gregory Wallace) who repeatedly cycles right past him even as Matt shouts to get his attention.
Muhlberger’s excellent direction (he also wrote the screenplay) works to accelerate the insanity of the situation. He directs his actors to occasionally overlap each other’s dialogue, for example, which further intensifies the distress as the characters become increasingly distracted.
Hot Dog is absurdist and fluffy, and there is no real lesson to be learned (don’t leave a dog in the car on a hot day?). The whole jokey premise culminates in a denouement as exasperating as “it was all a dream.”
It doesn’t matter, though. Hot Dog is a light, reasonably droll short film more noteworthy for its direction and camerawork than for its story. On the other hand, this nonsense seen from the dog’s point of view would truly earn the filmmakers a Milk-Bone.
"…absurdist and fluffy..."