The Pack looks for prey.

The Pack Review – Bad Dogs Being Bad

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“Around the world packs of wild dogs roam freely, killing at will. Now they have developed a taste for new prey …”

So begins The Pack, a disappointing entry in the Nature Gone Wild sub-genre of horror cinema. As is typical with movies of this type, some manner of critter which previously left humanity alone for the most part has decided it’s time to start kicking some homo sapien ass, and the usual hilarity ensues. In this case, said critters are a pack of wild dogs (in case the title was too ambiguous) and the scene of their rebellion against the natural order is a farmhouse in rural Australia.

Representing targeted humanity are the family that lives there: a sheep farmer, his veterinarian wife, and their two children, a boy of preteen years and an “almost 18” daughter. Writer Evan Randall Green, making his feature film writing debut with this project, draws his characters entirely from stock family drama tropes. Director Nick Robertson, meanwhile, for whom this picture is his sole credit of any kind according to IMDB.com, delivers an object lesson in how not to make a Nature Gone Wild horror movie. He attempts to build tension through copious use of extreme closeups on mundane things: a running shower head, a patch of grass, even the edge of a table. Actual encounters with the dogs feature yet more of these closeups, along with blurry, rapidly cut shots that are sometimes impossible to identify.

The Pack - PosterBeginning with the prologue, in which a nameless, secondary farm couple are introduced and then promptly killed by the titular rampaging canines, The Pack offers a dull retread of well-covered set pieces and plot points. The boy is the Picture of Innocence. The daughter is Rebellious, and butts heads with her parents often. The parents are Proud, and Work Hard to Support the Family. All this is established in a sequence of throwaway scenes meant only to introduce the characters before they have to fight to avoid becoming dog chow.

And herein lies the film’s two main problems, though I can’t acknowledge the first one without giving a bit of credit where it’s due. In movies of this type, the main mystery is “Why is this happening?” In the best cases, a minimal amount of time is spent looking for the answer — the characters have more immediate concerns, after all. Who really cares why Jaws is eating swimmers, or those Birds have gone loopy? We need to focus on staying not dead right now. The Pack makes the smart decision to follow this path, but makes the mistake of suggesting early on that something may be going wrong with the local animal population in general. Several dogs have been brought to the clinic in the past week showing abnormal behavior that the doctor, aka the mother of the besieged family, can’t identify. This fact is never mentioned again.

The second problem has to do with the characters themselves: as far as we can tell, these characters never develop. At all. They are, apparently, exactly the same people when the ending credits roll as they are when we first encounter them. That entire night of terror may as well not even have happened. I say “apparently” because once the attack begins the characters hardly interact with each other. Instead, they are split up to follow their own, only briefly overlapping, story lines, before being reunited at the very end. And this is the core reason why The Pack just doesn’t work: character interaction is what drives mystery catastrophe stories like this, and there isn’t any happening here. Other than one hapless policeman, no new characters are introduced, and the majority of the family’s dialogue is little more than screams, or terrified panting.

With a checklist plot, stereotypical characters and a too-convenient resolution, The Pack fails to distinguish itself from similar projects that came before. Fortunately, there are plenty of better options when you want a movie about animals behaving badly.

The Pack is not rated, but contains scenes of animal violence.

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Robert Murrell