Pack, The (DVD)
Directed by Franck Richard
Distributed by Vivendi Entertainment
I’ll just come right out and say this: I have no tolerance for cheap and stupid twist endings. In the years following The Sixth Sense’s success, we’ve seen an influx of these lame gotcha! endings that negate everything that came before – even when there’s no point. In the case of The Pack (La Meute), we’re talking about a film that flirts with several subgenres from the get-go, somewhat successfully, until collapsing into a puddle of stupidity at the finish line.
It’s a shame because The Pack starts out as another entry in the young people menaced by backwoods maniacs subgenre, only this time in French. Sure, Xavier Gens’ Frontier(s) explored similar territory, but The Pack comes outfitted in bona fide Americana: from a backwoods bar spouting a Route 66 sign and other ‘rural America’ characteristics to a country/western song that closes out the film, it feels like something made in the Deep South and transported overseas. First-time director Franck Richard displays a lot of talent for capturing the required atmosphere needed for a story such as this, and he does an impressive job of mounting tension throughout the first act.
Our heroine, Charlotte (Émilie Dequenne), is a socially awkward young girl on a meandering cross-country trek. She’s the kind of person who doesn’t seem to give trust easily, even after picking up an agreeable hitchhiker guy whom she finds to be good company. They make the mistake of stopping at some jerkwater restaurant/truck stop in the middle of nowhere, where they’re instantly accosted by some amusingly foul-mouthed bikers. Soon the hitchhiker goes missing, and Charlotte finds herself troubled by his disappearance. And that’s when she’s captured by the proprietor of the grimy establishment, Le Spack (Yolande Moreau), a violent mother determined to feed her children – the titular creatures who happen to be bloodthirsty ghouls.
The Pack has enough going for it to warrant a look. The performances are good, and all of the characters are given enough quirkiness to earn the film some distinction. Charlotte is strong-willed and determined – sort of like a less tech-y Lisbeth Salander, and Le Spack is the kind of imposing redneck who’d be right at home in Mountaintop Motel Massacre. Haute Tension killer Philippe Nahon is a delight as the sleazy sheriff whose bizarre behavior steals every scene he’s in.
I would’ve liked a little less “torture porn” at the top of Act Two, as it completely derails the otherwise brisk pacing of the production. But special FX are solid, as is the humanoid creature design, and it’s a bit more “fun” than the most dominate French horror of the past decade. The slow-burn beginning leaves viewers wondering in which direction the story will go, and the last act keeps things exciting. Had the second act been a bit tighter, this would’ve actually been a solid little offering (even with the dreadful ending). As it stands, The Pack isn’t a bad film, but it’s uneven to be sure and leaves us on the worst possible note for no discernable reason other than to pull the rug out from under its audience. Hopefully Franck Richard’s next film will offer a bit more confidence to see its story through to conclusion without the gimmicky twist. It squandered a lot of goodwill here.
The Vivendi Entertainment DVD brings a smattering of useless extras to the table: a ten-minute EPK piece called The Making of The Pack and three brief featurettes focusing on the stunts, the filming locale and "the joke" (a reference to a scene in the film). None is especially memorable, but you can clear the whole disc in under 20 minutes so it’s hardly a daunting task.
The Pack is worth a look on a slow night; it has things about it that work well and other elements that fail miserably. It fails to gel into a cohesive whole, but it’s reasonably assembled and with some really funny moments to boot. Give it a rent with your expectations in check.
2 1/2 out of 5
1 1/2 out of 5