Therapy Dogs is showing at Slamdance Festival from January 27th to February 6th 2022.
What are your lasting memories of school? Are they rose-tinted? Or are they bound to a deep sense of confusion and a struggle to be free? Our memories often differ based on our age at the time and the age we are now. For example, our memories of primary school and senior school are often vastly different, and the older we get, the more we cherry-pick the good bits and relegate the bad to the vaults of our minds.
In this ocean of memories, the final days of school life often reign supreme, and directors have long used these in creating movies that explore the steps we all take into a more adult world. Many of these movies explore themes of insecurity, anxiety, and newfound freedom. Here the narrative journey is based on the unavoidable change the final days of school bring. But how often do we see this life-changing transition reflected from the viewpoint of those going through this rite of passage? Therapy Dog’s does just that in a bold, daring, and highly innovative debut feature that merges the fly-on-the-wall documentary with a fictional narrative arc. Here the confusion, escapism and energy of youth find a distinct new voice through writer, director and actor Ethan Eng and co-writer and actor Justin Morrice.
READ MORE: MINDING THE GAP
As I think back to my own final days of school, several feelings and emotions stand out from those heady early-summer days. For me, confusion, hope, fear and excitement reigned as I took off my school tie for the final time; confusion of who I was and who I wanted to be, fear that I would never succeed, hope that I would and, excitement for the road that lay ahead. But, there was also a sense of mourning attached to this rite of passage, one that came with a nagging suspicion that my school friendships were also coming to an end. Over the years, I have seen and critiqued many films that aimed to explore this mental and emotional wilderness, and I can confidently say Therapy Dogs is one of the most creative of the bunch.
Ethan and Justin were sixteen when they began work on Therapy Dogs. Over a year, they would take their camera everywhere as they documented their school and the experiences of their fellow students. At this point, you would be forgiven for thinking the result would be a documentary. After all, this is real life, right? Well, not entirely, as although the students and school are real, this is a semi-structured drama about two boys hurtling towards adulthood. Here Eng and Morrice embrace guerrilla-style filmmaking that at times echoes the social complexity and style of Bing Liu’s 2019 documentary Minding the Gap.
READ MORE: BOYS STATE
Like Minding the Gap, Therapy Dogs delves into a range of complex coming-of-age themes. But here, fiction and reality combine in a vibrant and innovative filmmaking style that captures a fleeting yet important transition in life. The result is an unfiltered exploration of the vivacity and confusion of adolescence.
It will be no surprise to many watching that Matt Johnson and Matthew Miller acted as mentors and producers to Eng and Morrice. After all, their first film, The Dirties, inhabited similar guerilla filmmaking ground when it premiered at Slamdance in 2013. However, Therapy Dogs carries a very different vibe and energy to that of The Dirties, as handheld cameras weave through the corridors of Cawthra Park Secondary School, Ontario. Here we not only view but share in the experience of those heady final days of school life.
READ MORE: MID90s
However, equally powerful is the fact that Eng and Morrice unknowingly reflect the last year of school before the pandemic struck. Here Therapy Dogs almost feels like a time capsule of school life before our current era of masks, social distancing and lockdowns; a celebration of a rite of passage suddenly and dramatically changed for most young people.
There is no doubt that Eng and Morrice have announced their arrival in style with a stunning movie that reflects modern teenage life in a way few films have managed to do. Here the raw honesty of their picture layers the experience of suburban youth with the reality of inescapable endings and new beginnings, as they both ask two simple but complex teenage questions, what comes next? And what’s my place and purpose in this confusing and often fucked up world?
Therapy Dogs is an unfiltered exploration of the vivacity and confusion of adolescence.