UK DVD Review: THE PACK

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SHOCK reviews Aussie killer canine flick THE PACK on UK DVD.

Nothing to do with Robert Clouse’s 1977 pseudo-classic, Nick Robertson’s feature directorial debut THE PACK does share its basic premise: dog attack!

Taking place over a single day, the Australian indie sees a family on a remote farm menaced by a pack of vicious and hungry black canines. Brow-beaten farmer Adam Wilson (Jack Campbell) is struggling to keep his family business going, despite the protestations of his daughter Sophie (Katie Moore), who’s sick of being marooned in the middle of nowhere and would be delighted to pack up and move to the city. Adam’s wife Carla (Anna Lise Phillips) has no takers for her veterinary services. Only the Wilson’s youngest son Henry (Hamish Phillips) seems content to knock around with the family dog in their sparse but bucolic surroundings. Things are already looking bleak for the family with the bank about to foreclose. And then the feral hounds start to circle the farmhouse…

Details aside, this is ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (or RIO BRAVO if you prefer) with dogs instead of punks: it even has a sparse, Carpenter-style electronic score. It’s also, of course, THE BIRDS, with its premise of nature suddenly turning on us and fighting back. There’s a pleasing lack of explanation for this, bar an expository opening caption. This isn’t some sort of, once-in-a-century-comet-drives-all-dogs-mad scenario. They’ve just gone bad.

 

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THE PACK is a slow burn, with a good atmosphere. It does well not to ever seem silly. There’s something affectingly bleak about its tone and pallet, and it helps that the dogs are largely real, with CG and puppetry kept to a minimum.

It’s efficient, but that can also mean basic. When Henry is playing, crawling through some corrugated iron tunnels in the film’s early stages, you just know we’ll be back in those tunnels in more tense circumstances later on. Ditto a veterinary canine urine sample that’s discussed early on: random enough that you know it’ll make a reappearance when animal scent becomes an issue.

We’re so used to Australian films being set in the outback or dusty towns – think WALKABOUT, THE PROPOSITION, THE ROAD WARRIOR, WOLF CREEK, WAKE IN FRIGHT, TRACKS, THE ROVER… – that it’s a welcome change to see the country portrayed as green. It’s a shame that the context of the farm failing doesn’t really end up being anything to do with anything, other than giving some fractious character beats which are, of course, reconciled by the end. Maybe there’s something to be said for the land becoming increasingly unwelcoming: the farm won’t yield, and now the animals are rebelling against the humans too.

There’s also a kind of intriguing idea in a vet – someone who cares about animals – being forced into violence against them to survive. Again THE PACK doesn’t really do a great deal with this but it’s clearly the backbone of Anna Lise Phillips’ performance. Rule number one of all disaster movies and most horror films is that you don’t kill the dog. It’s strangely transgressive to make them the villains and watch them get beaten to death and shot for 90 minutes.

In the end though, there’s something about the threat that isn’t… enough. There’s no CUJO-like extra danger of rabies, nothing to make the canine antagonists more monstrous: these aren’t the wolves of THE GREY. They’re just dogs. And quite domestic-looking dogs at that. And there don’t seem to be terribly many of them.

The sole extra feature on Arrow’s UK DVD is a standard 8-minute making-of.