The Pack Review
So accomplished have the French become at crafting exhilarating, senses-assaulting, sheer bloody terrifying extreme horror, that there is something of a weight of expectation upon the release of each new entry to the swelling catalogue. The cream of French extreme cinema over the last few years has been characterised by its challenging, intelligent, and exquisitely disturbing nature, and few other genres can lay claim to unleashing such a devastating effect on our nerves whilst simultaneously prodding our brains viciously out of their collective apathetic slumber.
So spoilt are we that it can often be a challenge to observe a new French horror flick without the corrupting influence of our expectations, and naturally, it's unrealistic to assume that all French horror output will be of the high standards we might have become accustomed to. And with this in mind, we examine The Pack (La Meute, in its original French form), a Franck Richard debut which, despite some clear signs of competency and imagination, struggles to find its own identity during its efficient 80 minute running time.
Our protagonist is the confident, chain-smoking, and mainly miserable Charlotte, whom we follow on her aimless car journey as she picks up a bedraggled male hitchhiker. After a break at a dilapidated old bar which appears to have been plucked directly from a downtown American district and dumped unceremoniously in rural France, trouble comes knocking, and before long, Charlotte finds herself at the mercy of a predictably crazed adversary. So begins our descent into the ensuing chaos, and the chaos showcased here is of both the intentional and the unintentional variety.
Richard’s picture is littered with affectionate references to some classic horror moments, and to entire subgenres in some examples. Yolande Moreau’s foul ‘La Spack’ crudely slides the filthy metallic door to a shuddering close in a manner that recalls the efficient brutality of Leatherface, the dead rising scene reminds us of Fulci’s disgusting zombies being spat out of the murky Earth’s crust, and the dysfunctional bikers are something akin to immature, juvenile, snotty-nosed brothers of From Dusk til Dawn’s leather-clad posse. Other references of greater or lesser prominence include The Twilight Zone, Saw, The Descent, and The Night of the Living Dead.
Naturally, such cross-genre love isn’t a bad thing per se, yet the net effect here seems to be that Richard’s sometimes effective picture struggles to make any kind of coherent impact. What opens as a casually humorous horror flick morphs into a depressing torture piece, flirts with humour again, suggests a Satanic theme, loses it again, lurches into mutant zombie territory, and rounds things up with a survival horror style shoot out where the allegiances, even in the extremes of survival mode, seem highly unlikely.
Fortunately for Franck Richard, whilst he appears to be bereft of consistency and continuity, he does provide a counterbalance by showing a considerable aptitude for stylish horror, with some convincing visuals, effective moments of tension, and some enjoyably snappy filming. As the filthy, ravenous creatures rise from the sodden earth to stagger upright and howl at the moon, the scene may lack something by way of imagination, but does show a deft hand for creating an impressive horror spectacle. Indeed, if Richard could have applied this approach more consistently and maintained an even, balanced tone, we could have been assessing a very different prospect.
As with most other parts of the picture, the humour also wavers wildly. The early humour peddled by the foul-mouthed bikers, for instance, is juvenile and irritating, and the silent scene we observe outside of the window of La Spack just doesn’t work. Yet the more random humour is far more enjoyable; check out the figure running in bubble wrap outside of La Spack, and the curious hobby of the biker at the latter stages of the carnage.
Franck Richard shows a great deal of love for some of the classic moments and subgenres of horror, yet whilst some of these are well done, the resulting incongruence of this jerky cross-genre journey causes frustration and spoils the end product. The dalliance with depressingly meaningless torture proves especially ill advised in this context, yet Richard does save himself some points by pulling together some stylish horror and a semi-successful climax of carnage. If he can bring more originality, consistency, and coherence to combine with his successful stylistic approach, we can expect a more rounded and enjoyable product in the future. For now, The Pack proves a fairly watchable horror hotchpotch of varying influences, but not too much more.
The Pack is released by Icon Home Entertainment, and it has to be said that in a retro sense at least, the dubiously gory artwork has an alluringly murky, old school appeal. The cover art and artwork accompanying the DVD menu structure is comic-book style, and will appeal suitably to the target audience.
The film itself is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and whilst the overall feel is somewhat murky, the definition is actually pretty good. During certain scenes there is a lot of detail, yet the transfer accommodates for this well. Problems do occur with some of the brighter scenes; the light coming into the basement through the high windows, for example, over-saturates and reduces the level of clarity.
Colours are generally (and intentionally) muted, as you will notice from the screenshots. This does fit in with the atmosphere the film is attempting to project, and is mainly an effective technique. It does, however, cause some issues during the darker scenes, such as the moments where Charlotte is walking around outside at night. Richard does make some effort to counter this in places; the scene where the dead rise, for example, takes advantage of the full moon as justification for targeted lighting of the filthy rising cadavers.
The disc includes a single trailer for Hammer's new Hilary Swank and Christopher Lee thriller, The Resident.
English subtitles are included, and whilst they are well positioned with a meaningful translation, there were a couple of moments where I couldn’t really understand the point that was being made. This may be down to my lack of intimate knowledge of French culture, as opposed to a mistake on the part of the translators.
The musical accompaniment is unfortunately a grimy synth product which does little to elevate the picture above its pedestrian station. That said, the actual delivery of said music is good, with the aural quality proving consistently clear and without distortion. Bass shows adequate depth with clarity at the higher end. The 5.1 surround is effective, and the sound stage is used well during various points to heighten the sense of horror.
Extras are minimal. There's a two minute short entitled The Artist at Work: Creating The Pack which is interesting enough during its very short lifetime. Graham Humphreys narrates as the man commissioned to produce the UK packaging artwork. He talks us through the process he followed, which included sketching out a number of designs which were put to the vote on the film company's web site.
Additionally, there is a sensibly brief Trailer which proves quite an allure for the movie, and uses its short and snappy approach to positive effect.
The Pack is a film with an identity crisis, and with its multiple personalities provoking a level of viewer irritation, this French shocker will have limited its appeal. For all that, Franck Richard is clearly a man with some aptitude for effective horror delivery, and as such we should view his debut horror entry with some sympathetic balance, and hope for a more even, consistent, and imaginative entry next time around.