French Road Thriller Torture Beast Siege Movie
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The Pack (2011)
18th Jul 11
Bloodthirsty ghouls rise from the mud. Where they got their overalls from it doesn’t say.
French horror has had something of a resurgence lately with modern classics like Switchblade Romance, Inside and Martyrs pulling off the incredible trick of making gore scary again, while giving the genre a classy lick of style and sincerity not seen since the 70’s. Last year’s masterpiece Amer, (despite being wholly inspired by Italian giallo thrillers) proves the movement shows no signs of stopping and from a quality standpoint, the French are putting the rest of the horror making world to shame.
Tossing it’s beret into the ring comes Franck Richard’s The Pack, a rustic roadside creature feature with some nice gore and nightmarish monsters. While it doesn’t hit the heights of the offerings mentioned above, it makes for a decent if uneven bit of mayhem.
Key to the success of a French horror is the cool aloof of its central heroine, and they don’t come more cool and aloof than Charlotte (Emilie Dequenne). Driving aimlessly through the earthy French countryside with HATE tattooed on both sets of knuckles, a riot girl hairdo, a penchant for dirty jokes and a gives no fuck attitude, she’s the stuff indie boy fantasies are made of. Picking up scruffy hitchhiker Max (Benjamin Biolay) with careless abandon (God, she’s so cool) the two hit it off in that humourless moody way only the French can pull off. Making a pit stop at an isolated café run by burly beast of a mama La Spack (Yolande Moreau), Max simply disappears and Charlotte is soon plunged into a dark dark situation indeed.
To say anymore would spoil the majority of Richard’s debut and while it’s by no means a masterpiece it’s still worth a watch if you like a bit of monster munch. Don’t expect too much of it though. The titular pack themselves are a nasty looking mob. Rising up from the soil (how old school) with no eyes and dirty great gnashers, these blood thirsty beasts from beneath are pitched somewhere between the crawlers from The Descent and that one with chattery teeth from Hellraiser (you know the one). They’ll make for a lovely bit of window dressing in your local Forbidden Planet but sadly they’re not given nearly enough screen time. The less is more approach can often be the most effective but The Pack isn’t really a classy Curse of the Cat People type affair and as such you do end up feeling a bit short changed of cheap thrills.
The main problem with The Pack is that in attempting to genre jump from conspiracy road thriller to torture horror to full-on monster siege, the whole thing comes off as very disjointed. Martyrs and Inside got these shifts just right taking you on a journey where every turn was a logical but genuine surprise, yet here the leaps feel like you’ve sat on the remote and accidently changed channels. Each individual element is fairly satisfying in its own way but they just don’t gel together.
Richard and cinematographer Laurent Bares (who also shot Inside) create a beautiful dirty pallet and the opening and closing shots in particular are pure works of art. One hopes that in future, Richard the Stylist would give Richard the Storyteller a kick up the arse, cause the guy’s got skills, but needs stronger material.
Dequenne’s convincingly tough, feisty lead and Biolay’s dark charismatic stranger do good work with thinly drawn characters but the show is completely stolen from them, not by the monsters but by the older members of the cast. Philippe Nahon (a million miles from his terrifying truck driver in Switchblade Romance) is an absolute delight as the world’s least professional local copper doddering around in a “FUCKS ON THE FIRST DATE” t-shirt (is this his uniform or just his favourite top?). Moreau cuts an imposing figure as the mad matriarch who’s not afraid to get her hands dirty putting her former pro wrestling skills (!) to good use. It’s this pair that make the biggest impression (monsters included) and it’s good to see older actors get juicy parts.
The Pack has a fair bit to offer; showers of the red stuff (quite literally), good monster design, a strong cast, striking visuals and a nice tight running time. Unfortunately it’s all a bit too thin and despite the odd quirk (I really need to find that t-shirt) doesn’t have as much fun factor as is hinted at. As such Richard’s debut is probably best suited as the supporting feature on a monster double bill (with one of the Feasts maybe?) but he shows enough promise that in time he could compete with le grande garcons.