BAFTA nominated Welsh director Philip John graduates to the big screen from Downton Abbey and New Tricks with this rousing tale of broken families, lost love and embittered adolescence, laced with lashings of oddly warm for sardonic humour. Writers Derek Boyle and Raymond Friel, who penned little seen horror gem Botched, inject genuine heart-felt, non-cloying poignancy with spats of drug enthused surrealism. They also enrich the themes with dialogue delivered adeptly by the cast and their complex characters, ensuring Moon Dogs will leave a wry smile on viewers’ faces that will stay there long after the end credits roll.

College student couple Michael (Jack Parry-Jones) and Suzy (Kate Bracken) want to move to Glasgow to go to university until Michael is unexpectedly held back a year due to a mid-exam “incident”. After working a short lived job in a fish factory, Michael sets off to surprise Suzy with odd brother Thor (Christy O’Donnell). But their journey to Glasgow becomes both blessed and beset when the siblings meet Caitlin (Tara Lee): an enthralling, licentious, all singing Femme Fatale who tags along in the hope of finding a band in Glasgow she can perform with at the Celtic Connections festival. Caitlin’s presence causes a rift between the lads which threatens to disrupt their trip plans as well as endanger their lives.

Moon DogsMoon Dogs frequently feels influenced by too weird to be true “real life” moments woven into a fictional road movie yet the story flows succinctly like a stiff breeze carrying sweet wrappers. Colourful supporting characters serve purposes by acting as catalysts/ clogs for the arcs of Mike, Thor and Caitlin. From disgruntled locals to small-time drug thugs and Dads who like to dress up as Vikings, the off-kilter assembly also works wonders when melded with bleak social realist components. A ripped and piercing mid-point altercation turns Moon Dogs dark for a short while but the array of emotions and traits unveiled by the characters augment Philip John’s debut feature and make it much more than a rights of passage road movie.

The writers, director and three leads are the beating heart of Moon Dogs and make it a constant joy from start to finish. Parry-Jones, O’Donnell and Lee deliver exceptional performances, capably unveiling fresh nuances as their characters evolve. Michael leaks flaws that make him less likeable but more multifarious. The same goes for Thor who turns from reluctant introvert into trendy delinquent art hound, before devolving into a degenerate after gorging on absinthe and magic mushrooms then having a mid-forest meltdown. Spicy pseudo dream sequences seem refreshing in the context of a road movie drama with stomach paining funny bits, melding quirks from the work of Lenny Abrahamson (particularly Garage) and Shane Meadows (Dead Man’s Shoes).

The change in character dynamics revitalises Moon Dogs despite not spinning it into a whole new direction. This suggests director John (and the writers) could go on to work wonders within other genres too. Even though his debut may, at times, seem limited in visual splendour/scope (possibly due to budget restrictions), it’s a droll and often stunning delve into our green and not so pleasant land, with a small screen feel that may also be due to the director’s TV origins. John’s experience from time spent busking in France with a rhythm and kazoo outfit could also have informed his feature debut. Despite the low budget indie feel, Moon Dogs is worth catching at the cinema due to the endearing, bittersweet story and characters, combined with dark and rousing comedy/ drama  that’s much more stirring than most mainstream efforts. And most of the music is awesome.

Moon Dogs is released on September 1st

Moon Dogs
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Daniel Goodwin is a prevalent film writer for multiple websites including HeyUGuys, Scream Horror Magazine, Little White Lies, i-D and Dazed. After studying Film, Media and Cultural Studies at university and Creative Writing at the London School of Journalism, Daniel went on to work in TV production for Hat Trick Productions, So Television and The London Studios. He has also worked at the Home Office, in the private office of Hilary Benn MP and the Coroner's and Burials Department, as well as on the Movies on Pay TV market investigation for the Competition Commission.