A family are forced to fight for their lives in the Australian Outback, when a pack of flesh-hungry dogs attack their isolated farmhouse.
It’s arguable as to whether or not there are enough killer dog films out there to constitute a subgenre. Most recently, The Breed (2006) was a commendable thriller about malevolent mongrels but Cujo’s slobbering St. Bernard is probably the most famous due to it stemming from the pen of Stephen King. The criminally under-seen TV movie Trapped (1973), in which James Brolin is locked in a department store overnight with a gang of ravenous guard dogs, is worth a watch, while the hooky Zoltan: Hound of Dracula (1978) and Man’s Best Friend (1993) delivered cheap thrills but are a tad substandard, or in the latter’s case, utter bunkum. And now we have The Pack. Not to be confused with the 1977 Joe Don Baker starring film of the same name, this Australian indie thriller is taut with an overly lithe plot, sinister settings and gloomy cinematography to instil terror and augment the sense of foreboding.
Adam Wilson (Jack Campbell) is pressured to sell his family farm due to waning finances and the livestock constantly getting mutilated by unknown creatures. But Adam retaliates against his bank’s advice, much to the dismay of fiery teenage daughter Sophie (Kate Moore), who is desperate to move to the city. Adam’s wife Carla (Anna Lise Phillips) runs a pet clinic in her spare time to help subsidise their deficit, but also quietly fears losing the farm, while youngest son Henry (Hamish Phillips) is aware of the family problems but is of an age where he can still get distracted by toy soldiers and the (not mad) family dog, Ollie. But the Wilson’s hardships soon wither into irrelevance upon the arrival of a pack of mad-eyed, meat-starved mutts with an urge to ingest the entire family and any Winalot Prime that might be lying about.
Like Night of the Living Dead, The Evil Dead , Assault on Precinct 13 and the wonderful low budget Brit zombie film Stalled, the single-set location horror can work wonders if crafted with imagination and a degree of ingenuity. Director Nick Robertson summons sufficient suspense during some sequences but others are executed flippantly, by-the-numbers and without panache. The story is banal, adhering to a conversant template, and fades into cliché via tent-pole plot points and textbook set pieces. But there are commendable facets that makes The Pack sometimes gratifying. A leaden, throttling atmosphere lends a look that’s tinkering gothic along with some austere, portentous settings. The pulsing, cogitating score by Tom Schutzinger blisters into petrifying for the last act showdown. Not to mention the feral pooches themselves: pointy-teethed, evil-eyed, petrifying curs, rendered even more menacing via somatic looking dog puppets and seamless CGI.
The dogs are revealed sporadically in flash-cuts during adroitly crafted kill scenes where supporting characters are mauled by the infuriated hounds. Clinging to the night like Giger’s Alien, which The Pack greatly emulates, the dogs appear as black hairy shadows, even when perusing lit hallways, as though permanently stained by darkness. Their faces are only fully revealed in close up at the end when their eyes are most penetrative and teeth are smudged with blood. Kill scenes resonate hugely but the main characters and performances are quite shaky, with the exception of Sophie (Kate Moore), who remains focused and energised throughout. On the whole, The Pack is entertaining and visually captivating but it’s a disappointingly muzzled killer dog horror that clings too tight to the template it relies on to be concise and as a result, subsequently ends up neutering itself.
Words: Daniel Goodwin (@privateutopias)