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Baxter

Directed by Jerome Boivin

Written by Jacques Audiard, Jerome Boivin

Starring Lise Delamare, Jean Mercure, Jacques Spiesser, Catherine Ferran

Produced by Ariel Zeitoun, Patrick Godeau

Rated R

83 minutes

****

Let this be a lesson to everyone who’s ever looked down their noses at Paris and sneered as they turned back to their “freedom fries”: never turn your back on the French, especially their filmmakers…because when they want to be, they can be just as truly balls-out fucked up as the Japanese ever thought to be.

“Baxter” will be the proof of that. Don’t believe me? Well, try out the first five minutes as a kid voluntarily slams a thumb tack into his palm. And if that doesn’t freak you out, well…try the plot synopsis.

Baxter, as it turns out, is an insane bull terrier who finds himself discontented living with his new mistress, an elderly woman who’s quite afraid of him. Due to his dissatisfaction, he plans to murder her.

Yeah, you heard me. The dog is plotting murder.

And it gets worse! He actually becomes a serial killer after discovering his next owner isn’t much better. And in his mad quest for the perfect owner—who turns out to be a roughly ten-year-old boy with a deep and unsettling interest in Hitler—he discovers he’s got an aptitude for and a delight in murder. Which he’ll satisfy more than once even after finding the perfect owner.

That’s right, folks…the French made a movie about a serial killing bull terrier.

There’s a whole lot you can say about “Baxter.” Bull terriers don’t look good in tutus. It’s pretty low taste to have a dog kill an old woman because he doesn’t like living with her. It’s even lower taste to set said dog to menacing a baby. It’s vaguely a Stephen King ripoff—like they combined “Apt Pupil” with “Cujo” or possibly “The Sun Dog” and just let it go berserk. Oh, and seriously—bull terriers do NOT look good in tutus. It’s just ridiculous.

And yet, at the same time, it’s also rather compelling, in its own strange little way. “Baxter” isn’t what you’d call really scary—but it’s also no slouch. It has a certain innovation to it—a dog serial killer from the perspective of the dog? Definitely unusual!—and that innovation lends it a lot of capacity in holding interest.

“Baxter” is good—no mistake, quite good!—but it’s also very strange. Like a new smell or a first love, it’s beyond the ordinary in a fashion that is at once compelling and repulsive.

The ending is actually pretty frightening. For any of a number of reasons, the last ten minutes of “Baxter” should scare the hell out of just about anyone.

The special features are limited to English and Spanish subtitles, along with an English closed caption track.

All in all, “Baxter” may start somewhat slowly and awkwardly, but by the end, it will be a killing machine of unprecedented strength and terror. I’m very surprised by “Baxter”—and in all likelihood, you will be too.

Steve Anderson is a film critic who collects action figures so he can dress them up as his favorite horror villains. He lives somewhere in the United States.


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