The Pack review
The difficulty in creating a compelling killer animal film is that most can’t effectively keep the tension alive without explicitly showing the creatures and then, by extension, demolishing the reality of the situation. It’s also hard to one-up the memorable films, because they have done it well and are remembered for such. Still, there’s also a reason to risk telling this tale – they’re often viscerally scary when done well, because the viewer can imagine scenario where one might find oneself in a similar situation, despite its improbability.
Director Nick Robertson’s The Pack – written by Evan Randall Green – has verisimilitude working to its advantage thanks to the film’s opening shots of lush Australian countryside, a setting full of beauty and yet a reminder of the untameable areas on our earth. There are vast forests and lovely snapshots of a large manse set in the country, home to a farm full of sheep and the family trying to make a living on a dwindling number of cattle and a very low-income veterinary clinic; there’s a long introductory sequence of a man checking on his sheep in the fields, only to find them eviscerated. It’s a series of scenes that help the audience settle into The Pack‘s realism, following a family who, at the start of the film, find out their struggle to pay their mortgage before the bank forecloses on them is only the beginning.
The introduction to the Wilson family – Adam (Jack Campbell), Carla (Anna Lise Phillips), and their two kids Sophie (Katie Moore) and Henry (Hamish Phillips) – highlights this financial drought, providing context and pathos for the characters. There’s something at stake for them at the farm, not just because they love living in the massive house – Sophie doesn’t – but because the whole place has become their life. And while this context probably – no, certainly – isn’t necessary for The Pack‘s plot later on, the exploration of their family dynamic and their unwillingness to step away from a lifestyle they’ve made their own gives the viewer a foundation for understanding when, later, the Wilsons fight against a pack of ravenous wild dogs that terrorize their home during the night.
Robertson’s film benefits from Green’s simplistic script, and the film doesn’t devolve into unnecessary subplots. In fact, The Pack almost entirely occurs during one day and one night, a short timeframe that allows Robertson the space to derive the most tension out of a a few hours of real time. This puts the Wilsons into fight mode immediately, and the film remains that way until the final moments, with the family fending off the dogs’ violent attacks.
The Pack only works if the viewer believes the threat, and Robertson does a great job of keeping the dogs to the periphery, never giving them enough light to accentuate them in the dark. Instead, they keep to the shadows, their black shapes just visible as they attack and devour an unwary police officer; or Robertson uses their tapetum lucidum to illuminate their eyes in the dark, watching and waiting at the edge of the yard. Shots of the dogs prowling around the house are particularly terrifying, as is a particular scene where Robertson uses growling sound effects to add tension to Adam’s run from the yard to the inside of the house, the dogs following close behind him.
The film isn’t going to blow audiences away with its originality, though, and many will find that The Pack repeats a lot of the same techniques that killer animal pictures have used in the past. The simplistic plot also leaves little room to develop characters any further than the film’s opening moments, so later on, the references to Henry’s troubled behavior – like stealing bullets – get lost.
But these flaws aren’t serious enough to detract from a rather taut thriller, one that never manages to lose its sense of realism. Nor does it rely too much on the explicit image of its dogs; keeping them in darkness allows the viewer to imagine them hunting without noticing the CGI imagery added to enhance some of the attack scenes. The Pack is a refreshing horror film that generates realistic horror because of its wild dogs, and it joins the kennel of other successful beast movies.
Click next for the Blu-Ray review.