The first twenty minutes of writer/director Franck Richard’s atmospheric horror flick “The Pack” (aka “La meute”) are pretty standard stuff, which isn’t a good thing when your audience has seen this stuff a million times before. The setup is remarkably simple: A broken-hearted girl named Charlotte on a road trip to nowhere in particular picks up a scruffy hitchhiker on the side of the road. He seems nice enough, and even goes out of his way to make his chauffeur feel at home. While Charlotte catches a snap, this shady character pilots the car to a restaurant, where, after a seemingly pointless series of events, our heroine is branded and tossed into a large cage. In other words, it’s typical by-the-numbers torture porn goulash set in the French countryside. You’ll probably fight the urge to yawn several times during this time, but stay with me. It does get better.
The hitchhiker, it would seem, is the son of an ill-tempered old hag who routinely captures young travelers and prepares them for some sort of ritual. At one point, Charlotte finds herself strapped to a strange contraption that mechanically pumps fluids into her mouth via a long, thick tube. Her cellmate, a skinny little Asian guy who constantly pleads to John Wayne for help, has the word “tofu” scrawled into his forehead. What this process achieves is left in the dark; nothing is ever really explained in “The Pack”, which, depending on your temperament, might be a good thing or a bad thing. I, for one, happen to think it works in the film’s favor. Explaining too much of the story would have ruined its impact, especially once the director reveals his hand.
I’ll refrain from giving away any more of the plot, as the second half of “The Pack” is where the film really comes to life. In fact, if you haven’t watched the trailer yet, I wouldn’t advice that you do so. The clip reveals a bit too much of the plot, which dampens the surprise immensely. However, if you do happen to discover the picture’s secret, don’t fret — there’s still plenty of gore-caked delights to sink your miserable little teeth into. Richard certainly doesn’t shy away from violence; the level of carnage in “The Pack” is seriously impressive, ranging from mildly uncomfortable to downright shocking. Most of the good stuff is packaged towards the end of the feature, so, like I said, you’ll have to wade through some generic cinematic waters to get there.
Much to my surprise, this dark and dreary tale develops a rather sinister sense of humor about halfway through, as evidenced by the picture’s comically violent finale. Another particularly humorous moment involves a bucket, a severe head wound, and a fair amount of blood, though, to be honest, most people will probably find this scene disturbing. And I can’t blame them. In fact, most of the stuff I found to be morbidly funny will probably turn the stomach of more stable viewers. Most of it’s played for laughs — watching someone unlock a door through someone else was kind of amusing — though there are some darker moments that aim more for visceral shock than demented giggles. Either way, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Although it opens with the sort of scenario we’ve grown accustomed to these days, “The Pack” is still an extremely rewarding experience for those with the patience to suffer through the picture’s slower moments. It’s a genuinely affecting movie, one that lingers long after its finished. In fact, I’ve watched the film twice since receiving the screener, which is practically unheard of given how little free time I have these days. Fans of “slow burn” horror will find much to love here, as the film has plenty of nasty little surprises tucked throughout its decidedly slim run time. Franck Richard and crew have crafted a violent gem, one that, I feel, will eventually find an audience that will appreciate the movie for what it is. And for the love of God, people, avoid the trailer if you don’t want to learn more about the story than you should. In fact, don’t even look at the poster embedded below. Seriously. You’ll thank me for it later.
Franck Richard (director) / Franck Richard (screenplay)
CAST: Yolande Moreau … La Spack
Émilie Dequenne … Charlotte
Benjamin Biolay … Max
Philippe Nahon … Chinaski