"You know we've a situation here. In the last six months we've lost hundreds of prime livestock. Every week we find more and more of them of them lying out there with their bloody throats ripped out." - Adam Wilson
Adam and Carla Wilson run a large station in a remote forest surrounded area of Australia. They have a few problems, daughter Sophie wants to leave and move to the City, son Henry is a bit of a kleptomaniac who loves to collect rifle bullets, and the bank is threatening to foreclose on the mortgage. Adam isn't about to sell the station even though his dwindling sheep flock is being decimated by wild dogs. At least Carla has a vet practice happening which should pay some of the bills.
The local wild dog population is clearly running out of livestock to gut and turns its attention to the human denizens. In a night of terror the Wilson family comes under attack by a savagely aggressive pack of killers and find that remoteness has a few disadvantages when it comes to calling for help. Can the family survive the onslaught and will it once and for all shatter their idyllic country lifestyle? One of the best Aussie horror movies of the year ensues.
The Pack marks Nick Robertson's debut as a movie director and he shows he might just know a thing or two about how the horror genre works. Sure there's the odd issue, some scenes don't get the payoff you might legitimately expect them to be leading too, but overall the atmosphere and tension is working effectively. Robertson takes a real situation, ramps it up, and delivers the chills too often missing in modern horror flicks. For mine Robertson delivers the best creature feature since Andrew Traucki's outstanding croc flick Black Water (2008). Warning, you might never view the family dog in quite the same favourable light after watching The Pack.
The movie kicks off with the type of prologue scene that's meant to get us on edge and starting to feel the goose bumps. An elderly farmer is locking his sheep up for the night and settling in for a smoke in front of the fire. Naturally this being a horror flick, and the farm being in an isolated location, things don't end well. Hell smoking isn't going to get a chance to kill this dude. Robertson keeps it effective with tight editing and a quick focus, without unleashing full splatter on the screen. Since we pretty well know what creatures we are dealing with there's no surprises coming our way, but in a similar vein to Spielberg's Jaws (1975) Robertson is keeping his fauna under wraps, no doubt using the adage that what isn't seen is generally more frightening than what is thrown at the screen. I dug the introduction as it set up in quick fashion that Fido wasn't going to be happy with a bowl of PAL.
When we hit the movie proper, the prologue setting up the chills, Robertson does some decent overhead shoots that point to the fact that our central location is isolated, surrounded by a vast forest which could best be described as brooding, and for sure it's not going to be all summer and picnics on the front lawn. What the Director is doing well is adding a foreboding feeling to his scenes and taking time out of his busy schedule to introduce our central characters. I don't know, I simply got a dark feeling from the light being used, the encroaching nature of the forest, and the constant hint of something lurking and watching. Equally I was getting right behind the characters, Adam and Carla are fighting to keep their home in the face of mounting problems, daughter Sophie just wants to get out of the isolated station and into the City, and son Henry might have a few problems of his own. As stated Robertson knows how horror ticks, introduce the situation that is increasingly concerning, get the audience to like the central characters, enter chaos.
Like Spielberg's seminal attack of nature flick Jaws The Pack then spends considerable time putting our central characters in danger's way without fully showing what is hunting them. We get eyes in the darkness, which is pretty chilling especially when Adam Wilson goes looking for the family dog in the woods, something smashing into doors trying to get into the house, quick glimpses of dogs on the attack, and above all the heightened sense that they are out there and might be out there is some number. Director Robertson knows the audience is going to scare themselves, with only a little help from the movie, without having loud music and jump scenes coming at them. Okay not saying there isn't the odd jump scene, but it isn't overly used and for sure this flick isn't pandering to the teenage "want to be scared" date crowd. Don't worry we do get to meet the pack, firstly in long view, and then quite intimately, but like the shark in Jaws the dogs are setup to be a menace prior to snarling at the screen.
Naturally Robertson goes for one of the classic horror tropes, the siege of the isolated farmhouse, and it's here that I would compare The Pack to any number of zombie movies. Before anyone writes in asking if I have forgotten to take my prescription again consider the situation, isolated farmhouse, survivors trapped inside by a mounting menace outside, and hey flesh eating antagonists. The only way this would have got better was if the doggies in question had of had rabies, ergo we would have been in infected territory! So if a zombie fan then think outside the square and get down with The Pack, same situation kids different day.
In terms of horror staples they are in short supply folks, which is actually okay as the movie doesn't need them. Gorehounds will ironically not be baying at the moon, some blood but the gore is for the most part off screen. Not entirely sure a person getting ripped apart by feral dogs would be ideal viewing at the best of times, but yes there is surprisingly a body count of four or so. Likewise T&A isn't happening beyond a brief scene of Katie Moore in a towel. This one is all about the chills and the threatening situation and less about sudden impact.
Robertson is getting some sweet performances from his small cast. There's no weak link in the four major characters, and I'm pretty happy to sign off on this aspect without necessarily singling out anyone. Sure there's a few incidental support cast members, but hey they are puppy chow pretty quickly so no call on performances there, though the dude from the bank was obnoxious enough to have me cheering when he got turned into dog poo, good performance therefore.
Perhaps the only really bad note I detected with the movie was that it wasn't really playing for keeps, there was no real feeling that one of the leads would meet their demise. I would have tended to have one of the four not making it to the final credits in order to ramp up the tension, though of course I might just be misleading here. Do all four make it out of the movie? You are going to have to watch to find out. But anyways a slight downturn on the tension stakes for mine.
The Pack is an Aussie horror movie that once again underlines just how strong the genre is Downunder. Good performances, an atmosphere you can cut with a knife, and a highly believable plot will have you on the edge of your seat throughout. This one is intense kids and surprises in just how strong it is as a debut feature from a new Director clearly going places. Throw a decent budget at Robertson and you are going to see magic on the screen, fingers crossed he continues to make horror flicks. Huge recommendation, The Pack makes Cujo look like a cuddly toy, finally a creature feature with some bite.