Hungry Dog Blues (2022) Review
Hungry Dog Blues, not to be confused with Mean Dog Blues, a perennial of early cable TV programming, opens with Frank (David Cloud) leaving a message for his son Charlie, played by the film’s writer/director Jason Abrams. He tells him to find a man named Walker (William Roth, Hooch & Daddy-O) who is working with an accountant named Ronnie (Amy Hargreaves, Homeland, 13 Reasons Why) to frame him for an unspecified crime.
By the fact the message begins with “I wasn’t sure if this number still worked” we can tell they weren’t exactly close. But that doesn’t stop him from finding his half brother Terrence (C.J. Wilson, Manchester by the Sea, A Vigilante) and along with Tina (Irina Gorovaia, Boarding School, After the Outbreak), the daughter Ronnie deserted, find a way to do just that. But when Ronnie makes an offer of her own, things start to become not just complicated but potentially deadly.
Although described as a neo-western, Hungry Dog Blues feels much more like a neo-noir, with its cast of characters that range from morally conflicted to morally bankrupt. Initially, it was hard to get a grip on them due to the condensed nature of the film’s opening. This may have been the result of Abrams needing to cut thirty pages from the script when COVID interfered with the film’s financing and shooting schedule.
Whatever the reason, the initial meeting between the two brothers, which should have been an important scene that would help set the tone of Hungry Dog Blues, has already happened before opens. The viewer also has to connect the dots to understand that Frank has unsuccessfully tried to kill himself and is now in a coma. Other attempts at cinematic shorthand, such as the heavily pregnant Tina chopping her own firewood, are easier to pick up on.
It’s once Ronnie offers her own proposal, in return for killing and robbing Walker she’ll recant her testimony, and they can all split the money that the characters’ ethics and motivations are really put to the test and their true natures start to show. If the brothers were willing to kidnap someone to clear their father’s name, would they kill to do it? With a large sum of cash involved, is clearing him still their main motive? And is he really as innocent as they believe? That last question links to Abrams’ original inspiration for the script, his own father’s legal problems.
But as more evidence came to light, innocence and guilt became less black and white. As I started to question the facts I was being given, I noticed my own justifications for his actions. It disturbed me. I saw my own willingness to betray my morals to protect someone I loved.Jason Abrams
And he does a good job of transferring those feelings to the small cast. The performances, his own included, are solid and help keep us invested in the characters even as they make dubious and downright bad decisions. Veteran character actor Wynn Reichert (Tennessee Gothic, The Alpha Test) also contributes a solid performance as one of Walker’s accomplices.
Hungry Dog Blues is a crime thriller first and foremost, so don’t expect a lot of action. There are a couple of scenes of violence, but the emphasis here is on the characters and the tension and suspense their interaction generates. And it succeeds in doing just that, especially in its second half as things start to unravel. The ultimate resolution wasn’t what I expected, but is very fitting.
While I’m curious about what the original version of Hungry Dog Blues would have looked like, what came out of it is a lean and mostly effective seventy-five minute thriller that should appeal to fans of the genre.
Freestyle Digital Media will release Hungry Dog Blues on DVD as well as Digital and VOD Platforms on April 25th. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more details. If you’re still hungry, you can check FilmTagger for suggestions for similar films.