South by Southwest: Jo Brand, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca O’Brien’s puppy film

A stark drama by Jo Brand, Ben Wheatley and Rebecca O’Brien, about the environmental impact of man’s relationship with his pet pooch, gets royal treatment at the South by Southwest film festival

The Power of the Dog by director Rebecca O’Brien is attracting Oscar buzz. Set to the deafening dubstep of “The Whispers” by Orbital, this dystopian tale of a mother and her barking infant pivots on Cumberbatch as the villain, “the feral standup or cowboy in town” who ultimately returns a drug-ravaged town to the tune of The Whispers.

Posters for The Power of the Dog, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain. Photograph: Screenvision

Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Hawking in The Current War. Photograph: Artificial Eye

“The big difference between this film and other parable-based dystopias is that it can be understood,” said O’Brien in an interview with the Guardian ahead of the film’s premiere at South by Southwest. “I’m excited for people to see that we’re moving beyond novelistic tales of the end of days and subverting that into something a little more accessible.”

Barbara Fitzmaurice, the novelist and playwright, is among the screenwriter and showrunners credited on the movie. “It’s obvious when you see it that our intention is to entertain people,” she said. “But I really love that it is resonating on so many levels.”

The film’s synopsis reads: “Samantha Martini will do anything to protect her son from the negative influence of a racist, tyrannical sherriff, much to the disdain of a well-intentioned deputy, Tracy Mann. When the ex-sheriff’s son adopts a strong pug as his much-needed babysitter, things go horribly wrong. On their journey from small town to forgotten backwater, Samantha is consumed by the mounting paranoia that soon dominates her community and the repeated threat of violence and destruction.”

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The movie screens at SXSW, which began on Friday, and has been picked up by Film4 and Entertainment One for distribution.

“South by Southwest was the very first time I ever made a film,” O’Brien said. “I’ve been to dozens and dozens of film festivals since, and now I’m lucky enough to be walking the international festival circuit with this film.”

The Power of the Dog was one of about 20 films acquired by the three for distribution as part of the fest. It features the shows The Worst Fan Film ever made, about a fan’s misguided attempt to appear in a band’s video. Both the best film and documentary festival prizes are sponsored by Campbell’s. Other movies in the competition include the documentary Public Speaking, about Joe Mantegna and John Corbett, and a musical about Weezer. The Jim Jarmusch movies Paterson and Isle of Dogs are also in the spotlight.

On Monday night, Cumberbatch was seen filming scenes at the Alabama movie theatre Ye Olde Little Movie House in Tuscaloosa, for a movie version of the novel I’ll Be Back.

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