Sometimes the most satisfying genre movies are the ones that don’t try to surprise and instead concentrate on telling familiar stories well. An archetype will always work if it’s done with sincerity and skill – and showing you can make the familiar feel energetic and vital is good way for young filmmakers to build their skills while working towards more original projects. The Pack, the first feature for director Nick Robertson and screenwriter Evan Randall Green, follows these dictates. The result is a lean, stylish and totally effective little revenge of nature opus.
The Pack‘s plot is as stripped back as it gets. Farmer Adam (Jack Campbell) lives and works on a remote countryside farm with his veterinarian wife Carla (Anna Lise Phillips), their surly teen daughter Sophie (Katie Moore) and their young son Henry (Hamish Phillips). They’re in danger of losing the farm because their sheep are suddenly dying in large numbers. The menace behind this scourge is revealed one night when they are cornered in their home by a gang of vicious and resourceful wild dogs. With limited weapons, they have to work together to figure a way out.
Simply put, it’s a premise that anyone who has seen a revenge-of-nature movie will be familiar with but The Pack works because the filmmakers invest their energy and creativity in telling their story well. Green’s script sets up relatable and sympathetic characters with economy and then puts them through their paces in a way that generates tension without ever straying into contrivance or over-the-top audience manipulation. The cast enhances the believability, with Campbell and Anna Lise Phillips doing likeably subtle work as a couple of parents prepared to make big sacrifices to protect their own.
The Pack also benefits from tense, stylish direction by Robertson. He has a knack for atmosphere, particularly in how he captures the beautiful yet spooky farm setting, and smartly treats the threat of the dogs with an effective subtlety. Instead of showing a lot of gnashing teeth and acrobatics, the dogs are treated like a shadowy threat that only occasionally creeps out into the light for scary, sometimes bloody attacks. He saves the best action/shock stuff for the final reel and it has impact because the audience has been given enough time to invest in both the characters and the believable nature of the villains they’re up against.
In short, The Pack transforms its modest scale into a strength and goes about its scare tactics in a smart, charmingly efficient way. The result is well worth the time for anyone who enjoys a good “animals attack” scare film.
Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory picked this up blu-ray release and has turned in a nice little edition of this film. The ‘scope photography looks good here and the transfer captures both the daytime and nocturnal photography with plenty of clarity. Lossless 5.1 and 2.0 stereo tracks are included: the 5.1 was used for this review and it adds subtle dimensions via the rear speakers rather than being assaultive with surround sound activity. Extras consist of a trailer and a brief making-of piece (7:57) that offers an interesting glimpse into how trained attack dogs, dog’s head puppets and subtle CGI were blended together to create the film’s canine menace.