Moon Dogs is an appealing, strongly Celtic coming-of-age road movie that showcases vibrant new talent and the riches of Scottish scenery.
The High Road and the Low Roadby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
The most Celtic film I’ve ever seen, Moon Dogs is a collaboration between the Irish Film Board, Ffilm Cymru and Creative Scotland and it’s a timely reminder that the far-flung reaches of the British Isles are creatively alive and kicking ass.
Moon Dogs is a teen and music, coming-of-age road movie that starts in remote Shetland, where Welsh Michael (Jack Parry-Jones, Da Vinci’s Demons, Back to Zero) and Scottish Thor (Christy O’Donnell, Clique) live as quarrelling same-age step-brothers in the new family that resulted from the mature second marriage of Michael’s mother and Thor’s father. Thor is musically talented in a doom-laden Goth sort of way that’s out of place in his traditional folk-orientated surroundings. Thor makes Michael miss his A-level exam and his chance of escaping to university in Glasgow with his girlfriend Suzy (Kate Bracken) as they had planned. When she leaves without him, his insecurity about their relationship makes him decide to follow her there anyway and Thor unexpectedly decides to join him – he wants to find his mother who he believes lives in Glasgow. To raise money, they inveigle their way into a gig as the band for a wedding in Orkney, where forthright Irish waitress Caitlin (Tara Lee, The Fall, Raw, Jimi: All Is by My Side, The Odd Life of Timothy Green) steps in as a solo singer to rescue them when it all goes toe-curlingly wrong. She’s a talented singer who wants to get to the Celtic Connection festival in Glasgow. Events mean the three set off on the road (and the sea) together.
Their meandering journey takes them first in a small boat across the sea from Orkney and then through awe-inspiring Scottish countryside by various means – motorbike, lorry and coach – showing a Scotland that’s little seen on film. Caitlin is tough, more streetwise than the two young men, who start the trip with one as a dreamer and one a fractious joker, and her open sexuality creates situations that divide them. She is already single-mindedly focused on what she wants whereas Thor and Michael eventually mature during the trip as they have to face uncomfortable truths.
Lush cinematography by Alasdair Walker gives director Philip John’s enjoyable debut film a fresh, unusual look and a strong feel of what life can be like in the far north. Actual filming at Shetland’s annual Up Helly Aa festival, a spectacular celebration of the islanders’ Viking heritage and a symbol of bonding between Thor and his father and an acceptance of where you come from, is another stunning scene that reinforces the film’s positive regional identity. But in a film that concentrates on three central characters, though the parts are all well acted, there could be more clarity in the screenplay about their personal motivations and back stories, particularly for Caitlin. However, all three actors are natural talents to watch for in future and Moon Dogs is a welcome new twist on the road movie trope.
Moon Dogs premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and is released on 1 September 2017 in the UK.