Movie Review: ‘The Pack’

By most conventional standards, “The Pack”—an Aussie horror film from first-time director Nick Robertson about a family living in a remote farmhouse surrounded by bloodthirsty killer dogs (“Straw Dogs” with actual dogs, one might say)—is not a very good movie. It’s rhythmless, often awkwardly staged, and lacking even the barest character development. But by the low, low standards of small-budget horror filmmaking, it doesn’t look too bad. It’s competently filmed, adequately acted, and makes some attempt to create a creepy atmosphere. I can’t really recommend this film, and if one is in the mood for a movie about killer dogs, I would point them to the far superior “The Grey.” But if you just want to watch some people get mauled by dogs, “The Pack” has you covered.

So little happens in “The Pack” that a plot synopsis is pretty much superfluous. A family lives in a house (which is being foreclosed, although this plot point, established early on, has no bearing on the rest of the movie). Their livestock has been turning up disemboweled a lot lately. It turns out it’s all due to a bunch of killer dogs roaming the area. One night, these dogs start attacking the family and, apparently, every living thing that comes within a two-mile radius of their house. That’s about it. What little plot there is is mostly just filler in between vicious dog maulings.

Robertson employs his best editing tricks to make these maulings effective. Generally this means quickly cutting between extreme closeups of dogs gnashing their teeth and people writhing around frantically and long shots of dogs tearing into a dummy (or possibly a stunt man, it’s hard to tell). In a couple instances, Robertson employs an overhead shot looking down at the mauling, which is quite nice. What’s missing are the medium shots, with the dog and the human together in the frame. That sort of shot is what really sells this kind of action, but it’s much harder (and probably more expensive) to pull off. And so we have to settle for workarounds.

For anyone who gets worked up about how characters in horror movies always seem to do the dumbest things (running upstairs rather than out the door, say), “The Pack” has plenty to set you off. Whenever a dog is in view, the characters all start moving verrrryyyy sloooooowwwwwly. I don’t typically mind this sort of thing, but it does stand out in a few scenes here. Though, on the other hand, the dogs sometimes seem even more incompetent than the humans. For a movie called “The Pack,” they don’t seem to work together very much. But Robertson’s biggest problem is simply a lack of suspense. There’s no sense of the stakes being raised, just a bunch of slightly atmospheric emptiness punctuated by dog maulings. The finale is especially anticlimactic.

But there is still something vaguely likable about ”The Pack.” It plays everything far too seriously, but, due to the silliness of the premise and the persistent shots of satanic dogs gnashing their fangs, this somehow works out in its favor. “The Pack” is purely a delivery system for dog maulings, and even though these are not terribly successful, its total unwillingness to pretend to be anything else is somehow admirable.

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