The Pack (2015)
"You can't outrun them. You can't hide from them"
An Australian sheep farmer and his family become trapped inside their isolated farmhouse when a pack of aggressive wild dogs suddenly descend upon his land.
Anyone who knows me in real life will tell you that I hate dogs. They hate me too. It is a mutual thing. Dogs are generally friendly, harmless and I can see their appeal. However, they can turn at any time – I’ve lost track of the number of times a dog has gone for me, only for the owner to say “he/she has never done that before.” Any horror film which features killer dogs doesn’t need to do a lot to send a shiver down my spine and the thought of facing some aggressive mutts is right up there for me, worse than swimming in the sea with a great white, ending up being dragged into a river by a crocodile or crushed to death by a boa constrictor. Death by dog is the ultimate fear factor for me but given their appeal as man’s best friend, I find it easy to understand why there have been so few films about killer dogs. The Pack is one of a small breed of films which attempt to correct this.
But having seen this film, it’s also easy to understand just why the killer dog sub-genre has never taken off. The Pack has a straightforward approach, some nice production values and a few moments of genuine threat but suffers from the limitations of its canine stars – try and spin it anyway you can but dogs are dull animals, physically restricted to what they can do, and their bark is generally a lot worse than their bite. On their own, they’re not overly bothersome but perhaps when they attack together like, you know, in a pack, they can be a threat and you’d figure that a film called The Pack would have them doing this more often than not. Alas, there are many issues here that hamper what is some decent groundwork.
The Pack doesn’t set out to break the wheel and has little pretence to do anything other than deliver some mild thrills. The story is streamlined so that there are minimal characters, minimal build-up and the action gets underway fairly quickly into its sleek running time to get down to the business end of things. However, there’s no real purpose to the opening scenes involving the family facing up to the reality that they’re in economic trouble when dealing with the slimy representative from the bank, nor some of the tensions between the father and daughter. Characters are just thinly sketched stereotypes, given the faintest whiff of characterisation because any scriptwriter knows you can’t just dive straight into the action without attempting to build the cinematic world first. It is just filler until the dogs arrive and it doesn’t take long for that to happen. The first attack promises plenty and the initial sequence of the dogs arriving on the farm is atmospheric, but the resulting action is drawn-out, sometimes to the point of killing any suspense and tension that had gone before.
The Pack does feature some effective dog attack sequences. I wasn’t sure whether we’d get the CGI treatment here, but it appears live dogs were used as well as some animatronics, which makes some of the attacks appear frighteningly realistic. The quick edits during these sequences make the flesh ripping and ferocity seem all too real, though the lack of potential victims is disappointing, and the low body count doesn’t help. Unfortunately, given the nature of dogs, these attacks and any general scenes of the dogs searching around the house for prey become repetitive because that’s all they seem to do. Once you’ve seen one shot of a dog walking slowly through a room, you’ve seen them all. There is only so many times you can watch the same cycle – character goes into a different place, character realises they’re not alone and there’s a dog with them, character tries to keep quiet and wait for dog to leave, dog locates character and tries to get them, character kills dog or escapes into another location, repeat – before it all gets repetitive.
Production values-wise, The Pack is sound. First-time director Nick Robertson has a good grasp on what he wants to show us, with the remote location looking both beautiful during the day and very eerie in the dark. But the problem is The Pack is painfully dark, and this hinders a lot of the action taking place on-screen. I get the need to keep the threat hidden away, less is more and all that, but a little extra illumination wouldn’t have hurt at times. Squinting my eyes to make things out in the black of the screen isn’t my idea of fun. The dogs have the annoying tendency to be thrust into the camera for some cheap ‘boo’ scares and they don’t act consistently enough throughout to really create the feeling that the main characters are in jeopardy. As already stated at the start of this review, they only kill together twice and conveniently when hunting minor characters – whenever they square off against the family, they always seem to be on their own, thus negating their threat.
I wasn’t really going to bother with the acting since the characters are so poorly written that I cared not one bit for any of them. The cast do their best with their roles, but I had forgotten their character’s names before too long, such was the lack of development they had. I mean just because they're a family unit doesn't automatically give the characters a right for the audience to care about them, because they don't.
Another horror flick which tries to showcase that literally every animal in Australia will try and kill or eat you, The Pack has some decent moments but lacks the killer bite to deliver when it counts. It quickly runs out of fresh things for the dogs to do apart from running around a lot and the director’s habit of milking too much tension and suspense out of certain scenes, to the point where it all collapses, does spoil some effective build-up. The Pack is eighty-eight minutes long but seemed to last twice that length – and not in the good sense.
Director(s): Nick Robertson
Writer(s): Evan Randall Green
Actor(s): Jack Campbell, Anna Lise Phillips, Katie Moore, Hamish Phillips, Charles Mayer
Duration: 88 mins