There are no bad dogs, just bad owners…
…And that’s true. I’ve been around dogs all my life, and I’ve never met one that was a dick for any other reason than abuse or being trained that way. Not like cats, the demons of pets. With cats, they’re either born a dick or an angel. Most being the former. Sorry not sorry, cat owners. I’m clearly a dog person.
That’s because dogs love you unconditionally. They’re loyal creatures who can be trained to do just about anything capable with a set of paws and jaws. It’s why we have police dogs, seeing-eye dogs, and of course, emotional support dogs. We could all use a good emotional support dog right about now.
The latest episode of Into the Dark, Blumhouse and Hulu’s horror anthology, entitled Good Boy, brings into question, which really does come first: the bad dog, or the bad owner?
Directed by Tyler MacIntyre (Tragedy Girls), and written by Aaron and Will Eisenberg, Good Boy follows Maggie (Judy Greer), a near middle-aged, single journalist who isn’t only dealing with the fact that she desperately wants a baby and is running out of time, but she’s just lost her job and may not be able to afford freezing her eggs. In comes Reuben, an “emotional support” dog, (or “the cutest medicine”, as Maggie refers to him), which she adopts from a shelter. What starts out as an adorably symbiotic relationship soon turns to horror though as Reuben begins picking off those getting in the way of Maggie’s perfect life, with Maggie left to cover up his mess.
You thought you had it bad when your dog pees on the rug? Try getting blood out of the fabric!
In the tradition of films like Lucky McKee’s punch to the gut tragedy, May, MacIntyre gets us good and uncomfortable with Maggie, while at the same time pulling out every ounce of our empathy for her. We first meet Maggie on a date with someone she met on a Tinder-like app, and what starts off as casual conversation quickly turns to Maggie dropping the bomb of asking about kids, and then trying to cover up for her blunder by commenting on the guy’s sweater.
Yikes. Note to self, if there’s ever a long pause during a date followed by someone saying, “I like your sweater,” it aint going well.
Good Boy is one awkward bite after the other, with Judy Greer bringing everything she’s got to create a character that I wanted to hug as badly as I wanted to get away from. Like Angela Bettis in May, Greer’s talent is on display here. Her performance is one that creates an urgent sense of empathy, and one we can all relate to. We’ve all felt the crushing weight of stress and the worry for our livelihood. We’ve all felt the prickling pain of loneliness. Especially now more than ever, which is probably part of the reason Maggie’s desperation hits so hard.
I’m lucky. I have a wife, and a dog. But without them, it would be a constant effort to get through the day with a smile, all things considered. So it makes sense that Maggie falls in love with her new pet as deeply as she does. And it makes sense when she chooses to get rid of the body of some rapey asshole the dog rips to shreds, rather than get rid of little ole Reuben. After all, who’s the worse predator, the seemingly charming but gropey sexist, or the killer dog?
The disturbing part of Good Boy isn’t the ten-pound Reuben who is somehow leaving huge claws marks on Maggie’s door when she leaves and turning grown adults into bloody, raw puppy chow. It’s Maggie. Because as sweet as she seems on the outside, Good Boy is all about that phrase, there are no bad dogs, just bad owners, and we have to wonder, was Maggie bad before or after she started hiding dead bodies and lying to the police, (one of whom happens to be her new boyfriend, Nate, played by the charming McKinley Freeman)?
For all Maggie’s good qualities, she is ultimately self-serving in her use of the murders to get better stories, has extreme jealousy over others, such as her young and successful friend Annie (Ellen Wong), and seems about ready to explode on anyone long before Reuben enters her life. Good Boy is the living, breathing, horror filled embodiment of stress, and Annie has it pouring out of every pore in her body.
Speaking as a dog owner and fellow human, the film takes every stressful part of owning a pet and exaggerates it by ten. Instead of tiny claw marks on the furniture, Maggie deals with huge, impossible to miss claw marks. Instead of pee on the carpet, it’s gutted human bodies. That poop you hate picking up? Reuben’s has human appendages mixed in. But is Reuben really all that bad? We’re led to believe that Reuben is killing as a reaction to Maggie’s stress, similar to the helper monkey Ella in George A. Romero’s Monkey Shines, so who’s really to blame here?
Good Boy is part creature feature, leaving behind a mess of bodies and gore, but MacIntyre delivers what is more psychological horror, as we never really see much of Reuben committing the act, leaving us to wonder, is it really Reuben, or Maggie doing the killing? Good Boy isn’t about a killer dog. It’s about the result of crippling loneliness and the unfair pressures of society. If anything, Reuben is the good guy in all of this, because he’s the only thing that has ever truly been there for Maggie.
Outside of a cutesy, made-for-TV style, a repetitive structure of dog kills human, Maggie cleans up narrative and an all too humorous soundtrack to undercut the devastating tragedy of the film, Good Boy is good for a few laughs and cheers, but this is ultimately a somber, hard to watch at times flick that does everything it can to make you whine and pant nervously. If anything, it also proves that Judy Greer is a queen that deserves all of the praise for her performance. Prepare to have a treat on hand to make you feel better after watching this flick with more bite than it first appears capable of.
Good Boy arrives on Hulu as part of their Into the Dark series anthology on June 12th.
By Matt Konopka