Love me, love my dog

Viljar Bøe on putting a news spin on Beauty And The Beast in Good Boy

by Jennie Kermode

Good Boy
Good Boy

It might have been a simple story of boy meets girl, but this boy, Christian (Gard Løkke), apart from being very rich, has an unusual way of living which might put most girls off: he shares his home with a friend, Franks, who wears a furry suit and spends all his time pretending to be a dog. Sigrid (Katrine Lovise Øpstad Fredriksen) is not exactly used to that kind of thing, but when she realises that it’s completely platonic, and when he explains it as something he’s going along with to help his friend through trauma, she decides to give the relationship a chance. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only thing that’s unusual about Christian, and by the time she realises that, it might be too late.

Good Boy is the third feature by Viljar Bøe. It recently screened at BeyondFest, and a short time afterwards the Norwegian director connected with me to talk about the process of making it. It was, he says, one of the first ideas he ever had as a filmmaker. “Even before I made my two previous films I actually had this idea, but always it was supposed to be like this back pocket idea that was something that I will pitch or make when I get a bigger budget. Then I decided to do it anyways, even though we had quite a little budget. The idea was a little bit inspired by the 50 Shades Of Grey/the Beauty And The Beast trope.”

Christian (Gard Løkke) relaxing at home with his dog, Frank
Christian (Gard Løkke) relaxing at home with his dog, Frank

I wondered about that, I say, because one of the characters is called Christian.

“Yeah, exactly. That's very powerful. So it was supposed to be a flip on that trope where you have this royal/millionaire rich person who seems like kind of a bad guy, but then he turns more into a nicer person. But in this case, it's flipped – without spoiling too much. Yeah, and then the dog is kind of like his dark, sick secret where in 50 Shades Of Grey it’s his bdsm or his family secret. Then in Beauty And The Beast, he is the beast, and the dog is kind of the beast at the start of Good Boy.”

I also heard that he took inspiration from Takashi Miike’s Audition.

“Yes, it’s very much inspired by Audition. And in the way it plays with genres. I wanted to make something that felt like a genuinely romantic film. In Audition, it's pretty obvious that it will turn into something else. It flips back and forth between genres. But we were inspired in that way, and we wanted to make something that at the start felt like a genuine romantic film but turned into something else the more we progressed through the story.

“When it came to the style of the film, especially with the camera, we tried to make something more naturalistic so that the style could be the same throughout the whole film. The script and the music and the acting and dialogue was going to be more on the romantic side in the early scenes.

“For most of the part, I wanted to film Frank the same way you probably film any dog. The same way you perceive a dog, where it's just an animal that stays in the background where you don't give too much notice except when you’re interacting with the animal. I wanted the audience to forget, in a way, that there actually was a human in the costume. So then, of course, there were a few glimpses to remind people that he was human, you know, with the close ups of his face, him looking into the bedroom when Sigrid and Christian were talking or sleeping.”

I venture that it must be rough on an actor to be stuck in that costume all the time, but he tells me that Nicolai Narvesen Lied, the actor who provides Frank’s face and voice (and who also has an executive producer credit on the film), was actually only there for three days.

“The costume designer, Marie (Waade Grønning), had to be in the costume for the times where the dog was masked. We tried to be nice and let her have as many breaks as possible. We tried to keep that as contained as possible, to get the Frank stuff out of the way, and then she could take off the costume. So it wasn't too much. The only thing that was important was that the movement was consistent and that there was logic to the movement, so that they would be similar enough in their movements.”

Sigrid (Katrine Lovise Øpstad Fredriksen) realises that something is wrong
Sigrid (Katrine Lovise Øpstad Fredriksen) realises that something is wrong

We discuss the film’s setting, which contributes a lot to the mood.

“Maria was the location manager and also the set designer,” he says. “It was important for us to find locations that had big windows or a lot of practical light, because we didn't have time to find that set of lights ourselves. The whole film is only natural and practical lights. So that was very important. And, you know, it's not easy to find a place that's like an expensive house when you have little money. We didn't have, for example, insurance for if we were to break anything.

“For Christian’s house, we actually borrowed a family friend's house, so we knew the person who owned the place, and it was like that for a lot of locations. The cabin that they go to, it's also a family cabin, in my family.” He pushes back his laptop a little to let me see more of the room he’s sitting in as we speak. “I’m actually here right now. We're actually in the location where we filmed, and also where we stayed for the whole time during the shoot.

“We tried to find something with more like modern aesthetic at first, but we couldn't find any, so we actually changed the script to fit the more old aesthetic of the old house, where Christian was a person who holds on to the past, which, you know, is a little bit alluded to in the film but not explicitly.”

Shooting with natural light also helped to keep the film grounded, he says.

“You want the movie to feel genuine, so it was important for us to make it look very naturalistic and realistic. So that was definitely a part of it. You know, scary things happen in the daylight to and we do see that in movies nowadays. We’re leaning more towards that. Midsommar, for example. Maybe it's a trend that's happening.”

I suggest that it also makes the relationship between Christian and Frank seem more natural, because we see it in very ordinary daylight setting.

“Exactly. And that was the whole point of the first 10 minutes and kind of introducing Christian as the main character first so that the audience can feel more at ease. It seems more like a normal relationship at first.

Who's a good boy?
Who's a good boy?

“I watched a documentary about narcissism, and how narcissists are very good at presenting themselves in a way where they seem very nice, and they're very loving, and, you know, love bombing. They’re they're very loving at the start. And then gradually, they turn into...” He pauses. “It happens so gradually, you don't even notice it until it's too late. So it was very much inspired by that narcissism. Of course there's some red flags in the film, but I didn't want it to seem like the Sigrid character was a fool or an idiot for not understanding this was going to happen, I wanted it to be understandable that she wanted to go on the cabin trip, that she did fall in love with this guy and was willing to accept this Frank dog and not see all the red flags and warning signs that are there.”

Some critics seem to think that she’s there because she wants his money, I note, but it seems to me that she sees his wealth as something that isolates him, explaining his oddness and perhaps making him sympathetic.

“Yeah. I think, you know, the dog is supposed to start out as something weird about Christian, something unattractive, but, you know, the more she learns about that – at least the way Christian presents it – it seems more of like, he's a good friend who was willing to sacrifice his free time and probably his social life, in a way, to be there for his friend who wants to be a dog. So then, you know, the dog was something that made her more interested in him.”

He’s been pleasantly surprised by the film’s reception.

“It's been doing very well. We had the première a month ago at BeyondFest. I wasn't there, but from the reviews and from what I could see of audience reactions on the internet, people seem to like it. Not everybody. It's not a movie that's meant for everyone, but it seemed like it had the intended effect. And we had actually a screening here in Bergen two days ago. It was a pretty packed theatre. Around 200 people came. And there was a lot of laughs at the start, which, you know, I want to make movies that you can laugh at at least a little bit. Or you can have different reactions to the same scene and it's all valid. For some people, it can be creepy. For some people, the movie can be humorous. It seems that the reaction has been good so far.”

He’s now working on a new project with much of the same team, which he hopes to shoot next summer. In the meantime, Good Boy is looking for a home where it can get the attention it deserves.

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