Hounddog Review

Published 7 years ago by , Updated September 27th, 2008 at 11:14 am,

Short version: Were it not for the Dakota Fanning rape scene controversy, no one would be talking about this boring film.

hounddog Hounddog ReviewSo you’ve heard all the talk, accusations and screaming about the film Hounddog (or as many spelling-impaired people are writing it: Houndog) screening at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival starring Dakota Fanning but haven’t seen the film. The big question on people’s mind is “Just how outrageous or explicit was that rape scene?”

So you can gauge my answer, keep in mind that although this is a movie & TV website, for the most part I’ve come at stories from the point of view of a parent when it’s appropriate. I do not want every movie release to be Rated G, but on the other hand it drives me insane when bloodless yet intense violence or overt sexuality is aimed at kids.

The scene in question did in fact make me queasy and was sickening, but that was due more to the event than to anything on screen that could be considered even remotely explicit in regards to what was shown of 12 year old Dakota on the screen. If memory serves it looked like it may have been shot in a way where the actor portraying the rapist may never even have been on top of her. I could be mistaken on that point, but that was my impression. There were shots of her feet, hands and of course her face, and the scene was very brief.

Later on I’ll get to what bothered me about the film that I haven’t heard people talking about much. On to the movie…

Hounddog takes place some time in the late 50′s or early 60′s in the rural south. Dakota Fanning plays Lewellen, a very precocious 12 year old. It seems that right from the start the goal of the film is to make viewers uncomfortable as it opens with a scene between her and a boy that looks a bit younger that is her best friend. They’re in the woods and she wants him to drop his pants and underwear for a peek in exchange for a kiss. She talks about wanting to kill her father, which led me to believe that there may have been some sexual abuse going on, but it’s never alluded to again.

When she gets back home to the run-down shack where she and her father live, he is hanging all over Robin Wright Penn (whose character name I don’t recall) and is apparently a new girlfriend. Lewellan is a huge Elvis fan and she loves to sing his hit song “Hounddog” in particular. What is unsettling about that is that when she sings and really gets into the song she tries to gyrate like Elvis in a very provacative manner, sometimes moving like a dancer from a strip club. Seeing an undeveloped 12 year old moving like that is just plain creepy.

The film kind of rambles along and we meet Lewellan’s grandmother (played by Piper Laurie), and some of the black folks in town including Charles, a (too?) wise old soul and fan of snakes, which he uses to create medicine. The very bad guy in the movie is a new milkman in his early 20′s, who comes by Lewellan’s house one day and happens to see her singing a bit of her favorite song with her trademark moves, except this time while lying on her bed. He is the one who eventually rapes Lewellan.

Hounddog suffers from something I’ve noticed in some other indie films: It’s boring and it’s too long. Although it’s filled with gorgeous scenery, the film just seems to go on and on and on. This was yet another hour and a half long movie that felt twice as long. The best thing about the film is Dakota Fanning’s performance. She really is amazing at the range and subtlety of emotion she can convey at such a young age. I only hope that she is one of the very few child actors who survives the transition to adulthood unscathed.

The other thing that bothered me that I alluded to above was that I’ve never seen a 12 year old wearing just underwear in a movie in so many scenes. There were also instances of her lifting her dress to carry fruit or to pull something she’d been carrying out of her underwear. I can only assume the point of that was to show that she was very un-self-conscious about her body, but this doesn’t jive with her constantly wanting to kiss her best friend. That indicates to me that she is starting to enter puberty which I would think comes with an increased sense of privacy.

Is the director saying Lewellan was inadvertantly asking for it through her behavior? I doubt that. Is she saying Lewellen should be allowed to act seductively without fear of being attacked? I don’t know. My answer is obviously that there can be no justification for taking advantage of a child, but that she should be told that certain ways of acting are inappropriate and there are people out there who will respond to that behavior without giving thought to what is right and what is wrong.

I really believe that director Deborah Kampmeier was earnestly trying to bring attention to the subject of sexual abuse of children, but I don’t think showing a 12 year old girl acting seductively and peppering the film with scenes of her in her underwear was the way to go about it.

Those creepy guys who ogle kids underwear ads in the JC Penny catalog will no doubt enjoy this film, everyone else… not so much.

Our Rating:

2 out of 5

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  1. I just watched this movie. Up until the scene in question, it seemed like a Disney flick. Then I was shocked, because I was totally unprepared. This movie puts the viewer in the position of the little girl, who just expects Elvis tickets and suddenly ends up in hell. It wouldn’t have been such a shock if I were prepared to watch, e.g., an episode of Southpark. And what I like is that, in the end, the writer chose redemption over revenge.
    The poor side of the movie, though, is the Disney depiction of blacks, but what can you do.

    @ Vic: “…but I don’t think showing a 12 year old girl acting seductively and peppering the film with scenes of her in her underwear was the way to go about it…”
    Man, if you even noticed her underwear beside her acting, and found it “peppering” at that, I think you might fall into the following category:

    “Those creepy guys who ogle kids underwear ads in the JC Penny catalog….”

  2. @Funky

    Yeah… whatever, dude. Maybe instead I’m a guy with a daughter.


  3. This young girl’s acting is phenomenal! I think living where they lived in the South, it was very hot, hence the running around or swimming in her underwear. The interaction of the characters is what made this movie, I agree some would find it boring, but to watch them portray the people in the film was incredible to me. I loved the way the black guy helped her recover! This movie said a lot!

  4. I just checked rottentomatoes; it’s at 17%, so looks like the critics agree with Vic. I won’t take my boys to see Land of the Lost for the same reason I wouldn’t let them see this mess.

  5. This movie was the worst I have ever seen. It was repetitive and long and depressing. I don’t think I will ever be able to listen to the song hound dog ever again. The plot went no where, it was a story of a horrible situation, yes perhaps this is representitive of real life for some and that is sad. However, how could any one enjoy this movie? I like watching movies for enjoyment not to depress myself. If I wanted to do that I could just watch the local news. I wasted an hour and a half of my life, and I will never get back. So, I feel the need to warn others to avoid wasting their time too. Don’t bother watching this movie!

  6. After finishing this film, I must say that I was blown away by Fanning’s performance and irritated by the overwhelming amount negative criticism surrounding Kampmeier’s Hounddog.

    Like Funky_F, I too was lulled into complacency which made the rape scene all the more shocking and powerful. This was largely achieved by what many people are referring to the “slow” pace of the movie. The rape scene itself was brief, moving, and as tasteful as any depiction of such a heinous act can be. The unhurried tempo of the film also serves to impress upon the audience that

    The instances of near nudity were incorporated for two main reasons. The first of these being that it was largely indicative of children’s behavior during the time period. My grandparents grew up in the poor rural of South Carolina during the 1930′s and 40′s and agree that this was the norm for 9 year olds during the humid summer seasons of this era. Kampmeier’s other reason for “peppering the film with scenes of [Fanning]in her underwear” was to demonstrate Lewellen’s innocence by highlighting the fact that she is utterly unaware of her body in a sensual nature. Though she is privy to some of the sexuality between her father and Ellen (really, how could you not remember Ellen’s name when the main character is named for the combination of this woman who turns out to be her aunt and the father’s names?), she perceives herself in the naivety of childhood and therefore thinks nothing of swimming in her undergarments with her friend or singing in front of the young man delivering milk while lying in her bed.

    The opening scene demonstrates the basic curiosity of children about their differences which does not at all indicate the beginning of puberty. Remember, while Dakota Fanning may have been 12 when the movie was shot, she played a 9 year old which would have made it highly unlikely that Lewellen was beginning to experience the mental and physical changes brought on by the movement into adolescence. This curiosity and consciousness of the basic biological differences between boys and girls does not indicate the sexual awareness and intent needed for a person to act “seductively”. The fact that the milkman saw himself as being seduced, shown by his request for Lewellen to “Do the one you did that mornin’,” serves to point out the warped and sick of his mind in that he found it possible to a 9 year old as a temptress.

    My biggest grievance lies in the almost cliché role of “mystic black man” taken on by the character Charles. I agree that at times he seemed “too wise” and theatrical which was at odds with the gritty reality most of the other characters were portrayed in.

    All around I thought this was a very good movie that sought to bring awareness to child abuse while also providing a sense of hope through Lewellen’s triumph over the seemingly overwhelming circumstances of her young life. Those who herald this movie as an example of child actors being exploited should first, actually watch the movie, second, examine the delicate way the questionable scene was handled, and lastly, perhaps seek to help those truly exploited, the victims of abuse that are found in the heart of the Hounddog’s message.

  7. I watched this movie about a week ago with a friend of mine. We’re fifteen and we were browsing the Indie section of Netflix when we happened across this. We expected exactly what the Netflix description was, which was pretty much that it was rural Alabama in the 50′s and it’s about an abused girl who finds comfort in Elvis. The rape scene was pretty disturbing. I mean, it caught us off guard, just as Funky_F said. It was kind of a pointless thing to add in. It’s basically more crap to add to her already crappy life. It starts with her dealing with her family situation and it ends with it. We wanted her to go more into overcoming her trauma, because otherwise it was useless to the film, which it was. Also, I don’t see the underwear scenes as being that bad. It’s showing the innocence that remains before puberty hits. I didn’t notice it until I read the review. Acting was very good though. Pretty good that a young girl can portray such adult emotions like that. But still, all in all, I think it was kind of depressing and just made us sit there and cry for two hours.

  8. I saw the movie twice. I must say that the story line was on point and the rape scene was tragic for a child her age. What was not kept in mind when writing this critique was the socioeconomic status, neglect from the adults and the mindset of the child at that time. The showing of the child’s underwear was the least of the problems. Although you may be an excellent father, in a very nice home, with morals. Lewellen did not have that upbringing(as do many children) and was raised to be a wild child. There are so many children across the US alone that have parents that don’t care and have to raise themselves. No one wanted this child and treated her like property. Instead of seeing things through only the “safe”side of the rim, this fim shows you a side that continues to be ignored and is taboo in this country!

    With that being said, I thought the movie not only brought awareness, but a light that the basics to mental illness is having a poor foundation as a child and being forced to be in an adult world too soon! Great movie! Thinking outside the box to get the truth out.

  9. I liked the movie and the gritty reality portrayed. For those who never venture beyond the sanitized middle class hypocrisy of La La Land, the self-righteous indignation is expected. It’s easier to shoot down the messengers instead of taking a good long look at ourselves and the kind of society we have created with our racism, social myopia, ego-based segmentation and rigid class stratification.

    No one likes to think about a child being raped, but unfortunately it’s a horrible reality taking place everyday. I saw innocence exploited, not a child being raped. I also saw courage, redemption (not the Christian kind thank God), immense compassion and a rare spiritual resonance woven into the story.
    This was one of the better films I have seen and would recommend it to anyone seriously interested in a harsh reckoning as against being entertained while smugly eating pop corn and feeling superior to the ‘trailer trash’ elements we like keep on the periphery of our consciousness.

  10. I liked the movie, depressing, made me cry, I just want to point out that no matter how seductive a girl may be, ‘rape’ is just so wrong. In our country, the poorer that poor class(forgive me), as young as 2-3 years old gets raped.

    Fanning’s character had no parents, no role model, rural area. Spell -not educated. She’s innocent, exploring, trying to have fun no matter how unfortunate she is with her family. She didn’t know life could get worse that it already is for her.

    & I think when she said she wanted to kill her father, she didn’t mean it. She loved him for God’s sake, she didn’t like his drinking, his beating women up, but I think she loved him because he was there for her, and her only family. Reading between lines I think she didn’t mean that the way she didn’t mean when she shouted “I hate you” to the black guy and the pretty woman. She’s just a kid, trying to enjoy and hide underneath all misfortunes of life, afraid to get too attached.

    Anyway, I just think there’s more to it. Given another shot at a better life is quite a good ending! & very real if you open your eyes to see how evil and cruel people in this life are.

  11. “Seeing an undeveloped 12 year old move like that is just plain creepy.”

    What if she was a developed 12 year old?

    Just say it’s creepy- and not because it has anything to do with her being “undeveloped”. Kids who move like that are just copying what they’ve seen adults do. They don’t understand how it relates to (or is depicting) sex.

    The other “group” of kids who do adult moves or sexually inappropriate things for their age are kids who have been abused. They are acting out what has been done to them perhaps because they don’t have the ability to express their feelings emotionally and cannot process (who could?) the terror, trauma, and betrayal they’ve experienced.

    The dance moves (that seem to go beyond copying Elvis) coupled with saying she wants to kill her father (oh, and also trying to get her friend to take off his pants constantly) probably indicate she has been abused. Kids who have been abused are one segment of the population who are at great risk of being abused by someone else.

    The milkman/mailman whatever he is, saw her gyrating on a bed one day and then rapes her later? What does one have to do with the other? If she had been playing with dolls would it have been more evil?

    You mentioned you have a daughter. Maybe consider taking a look at your well-intentioned but inaccurate observations of girls, women, abuse, and sexuality. Do so not just because you have a daughter (every man AND woman should examine their views of gender bias), but because your observations (healthy and unhealthy/influenced by society) will and have most likely already influenced her beliefs about herself and self worth.

    Not trying to knock you down. Hey, just by considering these things you’ll already be doing better than half the population.