Two brothers already uneasy in each other’s company find themselves in an increasingly tense situation when they encounter a stranger during a backpacking trip in director Adam Gascho’s thriller Stray Dogs. Solid acting and storytelling make Gascho’s debut feature an independent effort worth seeking out.
Jeff’s (Skyler Pinkerton) beloved dog has just passed away, and Jeff wants to bury him in the remote forest area where he found him. Jeff insists that his brother Travis (Tad Davies) accompany him on the backpacking excursion, which will mean Travis having to miss custody time with his children. He reluctantly goes along with Jeff, and the two brothers quarrel often. Meanwhile, in the area where the brothers are hiking, Park Ranger Miller (April Martucci) happens upon the body of someone who appears to have been murdered.
During their hike, the brothers run into a stranger named Angus (Gascho) and when Ranger Miller asks the men for their IDs and relationship, Jeff surprisingly backs up Angus’s lie that he is old friends with Jeff and Travis. The three men continue their hike with Jeff carrying his deceased dog on his back and keeping an open mind about Angus, while Travis grows ever more suspicious that Angus could be a murderer.
The screenplay from Gascho and cowriter David Cepero is lean and taut, and Gascho balances family drama and suspense admirably. He is also terrific in the role of Angus, playing the drifter in a manner in which it is difficult to tell his motivations, and whether his displays of sympathy and friendship are real or phony.
The rest of the cast is super, too. Pinkerton and Davies truly come off as brothers who have deep-seated issues with one another, aided by realistic dialogue that helps their relationship feel genuine. Martucci gives a potent performance in her supporting role.
Stray Dogs also has some mystical elements that I won’t go into here because of potential spoilers, but they leave food for thought long after the ending credits roll. Fans of independent thrillers should find plenty to enjoy in this compelling offering.
Stray Dogs screened on September 25, 2020 as part of Mr. HoleHead’s Warped Dimension, the first-ever online film festival to be presented entirely through the Zoom app. The fest ran from September 24-29, 2020. Gravitas Ventures has announced a July 27, 2021 theatrical and VOD release of the film.