The phrase “Jaws with [insert other creature here]” has been so overused over the past forty years as to render it redundant. In the case of inspired Aussie creature feature The Pack however, it’s kind of fitting.
Replacing good ol’ Bruce with a pack of very real-looking rabid dogs, the flick sees a nuclear family (mom, dad, two kids) surrounded in their isolated farm-house, somewhere in the wilds of the Australian Outback, as the pooches circle, their razor-sharp teeth glistening and stomachs almost audibly growling.
The Pack is an interesting prospect chiefly because it’s equal parts creature feature and home invasion movie. Rather than laying waste to a bunch of horny teens partying in the woods, the film focuses on The Wilsons, a struggling family facing foreclosure on their farm following the mysterious deaths of hundreds of their livestock.
Those that remain are spooked, while the family dog howls through the night (barking dogs are a fixture throughout). The conceit seems flawed at first–how will the titular pack even going to gain access to the house? They’re not massive animals, they’re dogs.
Luckily, any such fears are quickly done away with once we see what this lot can do. A thrilling cold opening gives us just enough of a hint of the dogs, and their power, to whet our appetites (no pun intended) before the first kill is unleashed in all its gory glory.
Creature features often utilise clever cuts to sell us on the action the filmmakers cannot show, but The Pack revels in the teeth-baring, throat-slashing explicitness of these sequences–and in this case, it is stronger for it. The deaths are drawn-out, stomach-churning but still horrifyingly realistic.
Add to this the fact the dogs, whether they’re real or CGI or a combination of both (I honestly couldn’t tell), look 100% real each and every time they’re on-screen and suddenly The Pack seems like a much more terrifying prospect. Seriously, if you thought DiCaprio’s bear attacker looked real, prepare yourself for this.
If there are stitches, they’re not obvious. Along with the many, great money shots of the pooches, fleeting glimpses are given of them circling the property, darting to and fro, their red eyes shining in the darkness–much like sharks biding their time before launching on their prey.
The easiest comparison to make with another horror movie would probably be the under-appreciated Open Water, which infamously landed its stars in the water with real bull and reef sharks snapping all around them (for authenticity purposes…). The Pack has a similar vibe, but it gets going much quicker, refusing to waste a second of its sharp, 90-minute run-time.
The lush countryside is lovingly photographed by Benjamin Shirley, while Tom Schutzinger’s moody score perfectly complements the tense atmosphere. The film is alarmingly inventive, given its simplicity. Bearing certain hallmarks from both creature features (the aforementioned circling) and home invasion chillers (characters hide in the pantry), it retains a feeling of freshness, of newness.
There are some remarkably inventive set-pieces, including a nail-biting crawl through a system of homemade tunnels and a face-off in a shed during which flickering lights are utilised to increasingly creepy effect. The protagonists are refreshingly smart, too, which gives some weight to their struggle. And, in spite of a low body count, it feels as though they are all fair game.
There aren’t too many killer dog movies out there (at lest, not serious ones), which is a shame because, as anyone who has a fear of our furry friends can attest, they can be pretty damn scary when they want to be. Only the still-untouchable Cujo has really made a significant impact (last year’s Rabid Dogs was not literally-titled).
Perhaps The Pack will encourage budding filmmakers to take a look at this wildly untapped sub-genre. Although it’s hard to imagine how anybody could possibly capture the act of rabid dogs mauling humans on film as well as it’s done here. There’s a real “how the hell did they do that!?” quality to this movie, particularly in the deaths.
The filmmakers do an awful lot with very little; the flick is super-scary, super-tense and loaded with suspense throughout, while the stomach-dropping final shot suggests the story has even more legs than the pack itself.
WICKED RATING: (6 / 10)
Director(s): Nick Robertson
Writer(s): Evan Randall Green
Stars: Anna Lise Phillips, Jack Campbell, Katie Moore, Hamish Phillips
Studio/ Production Co: Kojo Pictures
Length: 90 minutes
Sub-Genre: Creature feature, home invasion