If you can get over the sexually taboo subject matter, Sleeping Dogs Lie is a heartfelt drama that should be heatedly discussed in indie film circles.
In the opening voice over, Amy (Melissa Page Hamilton) admits she experimented with bestiality one bored, lonely college night. Now engaged, her fiancé John (Bryce Johnson) dreams of sharing all his secrets with his bride-to-be. She makes up a safer story about girl on girl action to stall him, but he still suspects there's something bigger. They are temporarily distracted by a visit to her parents. Religious mom (Bonita Friedericy) thinks her daughter is a virginal angel, while Dad (Geoff Pierson) is a tough-as-nails manly man. Brother Donnie (Jack Plotnick) is a rebellious stoner. Stuck chopping wood and rooming with little bro, John steals a moment with Amy and gets her to talk. Not only is he horrified by the revelation, but Donnie overhears it, too. Soon he tells the whole family. With all her relationships torn apart, Amy struggles to put her life back together with a new love and a newfound respect for keeping secrets. While there are funny moments with her family, the film never makes fun of Amy. It focuses on her struggle to regain her family's admiration and a romantic love free of preconceived notions.
All unknown faces, each actor gives a Hollywood-worthy performance without the baggage of a star persona. Each character feels like a real person. Hamilton creates immediate sympathy for a character who has done something that should disgust anyone in the audience. But she's no pervert. She was just an unguided kid who foolishly indulged a fleeting whim. Her struggle with the desire for honesty and the reality of what her secret is morally ambiguous, and she definitely earns her SAG card going through this range of emotions. Johnson seems like the perfect man, dutifully putting up with his future in-laws' outdated traditions. The pressure he puts on the secret comes from a genuine desire for open communication, and his ultimate disgust is complicated. Plotnick plays the stoner as a truly disturbed youth, lacking the parental approval that could turn him into a functioning person. He's too far gone at this point in his life, but one can understand how he got there. Friedericy is so adorable as Mom you don't even hate her for being so oblivious to modern day demands on relationships. She gets a chance to show some humanity, naïve as it may be. Pierson too instills his one-and-a-half note character with that extra bit of reality. He has feelings his upbringing didn't prepare him to deal with and that unspoken conflict comes through his performance.
Best known as the guy with an animal voice in the Police Academy movies, Bobcat Goldthwait is actually an experienced filmmaker. While his debut Shakes the Clown felt like any average studio comedy and his mockumentary Windy City Heat was the perfect bizarro version of Project Greenlight, Sleeping Dogs Lie looks like a student film, grainy and badly lit. This makes it feel cheap, and it deserves better than that. The script addresses a daring and significant subject in a respectful and heartfelt way. It could have been all humiliating jokes at Amy's expense but instead it asks the audience to sympathize with a good person who made a bad mistake at a time when we all experiment. But Dogs could be funnier. The secret could embarrass her at more inopportune times, not in a demeaning way, just a real consequence of the revelation. And it could have affect more than just her relationships. But that's not the movie Goldthwait wanted to make. For a dramedy that asks questions and challenges notions of open honesty and forgiveness, Sleeping Dogs Lie is a respectable indie effort.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.