Starring Yolanda Moreau, Émilie Dequenne, Benjamin Biolay, Philippe Nahon
Directed by Franck Richard
Distributed by Icon Home Entertainment
Continuing France’s current tradition for imaginative and quirky genre output, debut helmer Franck Richard’s The Pack (La Meute in its native tongue) appears, in the early stages, to be yet another rough ‘n’ ready backwoods survival tale a la Xavier Gens’ Frontier(s). Opening with lead character Charlotte (Dequenne) midway through what appears to be a road trip, she quickly enters into a verbal altercation with a group of bikers while grabbing some roadside grub. When they follow her down the road, she decides to pick up a lone hitchhiker in order to divert their attention.
Said hitchhiker, Max (Biolay), seems like an average decent guy (don’t they always?) and the pair soon stop off at a secluded café named La Spack, run by a boorish lady of the same name. Just minutes after arriving, the pair find themselves in the hands of the bikers who attempt to rape the both of them there and then. When Ms. Spack steps in with a shotgun, the bikers disperse and Max heads to the toilets to clean himself up. When he fails to return, Charlotte finds her pleas for help largely ignored by the café owner but receives promise of help from local retired policeman Chinaski (Nahon, on fine form). Her tenacity in locating Max soon finds her coming to in a cage within a hidden section of the café alongside two other victims, before being placed in some kind of feeding chair which pumps liquid into the captives’ mouths.
Here, The Pack takes a fantastical turn with the revelation of Max’s involvement with La Spack, and the fact that Charlotte and her fellow prisoners are due for a dinner date with the titular creatures: A gang of tusked, zombie-like golems that appear to be the remnants of La Spack’s lost miner sons – who also require a regular evening meal dished up by their mother. Meanwhile, the spry Chinaski sets about querying Charlotte’s disappearance and events lead everyone for a reunion with the ruthless bikers and a showdown with the ravenous cannibal ghouls.
Weaving its story in a mere 80 minutes, The Pack does have some minor trouble cleanly melding its two different approaches into one cohesive narrative, but the abundance of larger-than-life characters and black comedy help to keep it together. Nahon’s older ex-sheriff sports a T-shirt emblazoned with “I FUCK ON THE FIRST DATE”, La Spack reveals her past as a professional wrestler and lead biker Bazooka Joe queries “Why is she throwing guys’ heads at us?” after receiving a severed noggin posted through his window. These are just a few of the humorous elements that permeate an otherwise grimly-toned piece of work, and kudos to Richard for managing to make it work for the most part when it could easily have become much too disjointed for its own good.
While it isn’t excessively gory, The Pack delivers nicely when it comes to the splatter with well executed kills (a hand punched through someone’s midriff is a definite standout) and gut munching. The creature design and prosthetics are top notch and highly original, but the film itself lacks visual creativity until they show up – at which point Richard knocks out some wonderfully gothic images, such as the beasts rising from the soil to feast on their prey or standing moonlit in the fog. A late scene involving the creatures seeking their final ensnared meal amidst an overgrown field delivers on the tension and cements them as a seriously threatening presence (something which is regrettably lacking until late in the game), while another sequence of temporary deafening by gunshot hints towards a sense of directorial adventurousness that Richard would have done well to trust himself with displaying across the entire runtime. Extra points go to him for the determinedly unpleasant ending, though.
While it may be too off-kilter for some, The Pack moves quickly and ultimately delivers on the monster-movie goods. It won’t be ranking amongst some of the most revered French offerings of recent years, but still makes an easy recommendation for an entertaining evening. Give it a shot.
Icon’s UK DVD release of The Pack backs up the main feature with the trailer, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it featurette focusing on the creation of the release’s exclusive (and pretty damn badass) artwork by Graham Humphreys. Of further note is the image quality, which starts off really rather poor with obvious compression and strangely fuzzy opening titles. Within around 10 minutes, though, things improve greatly and the presentation manages to settle into the muted, grimy tones of the first half with comparative ease. The fuzziness is absent in the closing credits, so whether this is simply due to post-production digital effects applied on the opening scene (and not the fault of the transfer to DVD) is uncertain but likely.
3 1/2 out of 5
1 out of 5
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