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With current wave of brutal Euro-horror showing no signs of abating, the playing field is becoming pretty crowded, with film makers already being reduced to trying to one-up each other in terms of gore and nastiness. Thankfully, although “The Pack”, marking the debut of writer-director Franck Richard has more than then requisite servings of grue, it makes at least a little effort to throw a few new ideas into the mix. The French film also has a surprisingly high calibre cast of recognisable faces, including Benjamin Biolay (“Stella”), award winning Belgian actresses Yolande Moreau (recently in the “Gainsbourg” biopic) and Emilie Dequenne (“Brotherhood of the Wolf”) and acclaimed French veteran, Philippe Nahon (“Switchblade Romance”, “Irreversible”). Having impressed during a run at international genre festivals, the film lands shortly on region 2 DVD via Icon Home Entertainment, coming complete with specially commissioned exclusive artwork from British film poster artist Graham Humphreys.
The plot, it has to be said, is painfully familiar, with Dequenne as Charlotte, a young woman taking a road trip through the rural backwaters, who after a spot of trouble with neanderthal bikers at a food van picks up a hitchhiker – always a splendid idea. To be fair, her new passenger, Max (Biolay) seems friendly enough, and the two stop off at the wretched café La Spack, whose middle aged female owner of the same name (Moreau) sees off the pursuing bikers with her shotgun. Although things are briefly calm, Max heads off to the bathroom, only to disappear without trace. Suspicious of La Spack and her increasingly bizarre behaviour, Charlotte starts poking around, and for her trouble is captured and thrust into a cage where she awaits her fate as dinner for the titular creatures.
Although “The Pack” may sound like yet another straightforward slice of inbred rural psycho sadism, the film it most resembles is Fabrice Du Welz’ superbly offbeat “The Ordeal”, mixing its more traditional horror themes with some genuine weirdness and an effectively sinister atmosphere. The film is certainly more creative than its plot suggests, with a cast made up almost entirely of amusing oddballs and a definite sense of the surreal that helps to make up for what is essentially a very basic 3 act setup. Richard plays this very well alongside the film’s horror elements and keeps things interesting and unpredictable throughout, with a number of entertainingly grotesque ideas thrown in for good measure and very little in the way of pointless exposition or explanations. As a result, the film is pleasingly tight and economic, and never wanders off on too many wilful tangents, clocking in at just an hour and twenty minutes and moving along at a fair pace.
The film also delivers in visceral terms, and though never as gory or nasty as other recent French shockers it does pack in a fair few gruesome moments, with some pretty impressive murders and scenes of flesh munching. The special effects are excellent, and the film scores extra marks for its sinister and believable creatures, which are definitely amongst the most memorable for some time. Sadly, they don’t get too much screen time, and Richard focuses more on the human threat, with the bikers laying siege to the café, a curious old policeman looking into the disappearances, and La Spack herself staggering around and trying to turn people into food. Added to this is an air of sexual threat, the bikers mainly being concerned with raping both or either Charlotte and Max, and the film does have a decidedly grim edge which sometimes feels out of place with its more eccentric aspects.
Still, this really just contributes to the overall off-kilter feel, and “The Pack” is certainly far more entertaining and distinctive than the average Euro-horror. Although it doesn’t quite reach the gory heights of some of its peers, it makes up for this with imaginative peculiarities, enough so to make it stand out from the crowd and to mark Frank Richard as a genre talent worth keeping an eye on.
Franck Richard (director) / Franck Richard (screenplay)
CAST: Yolande Moreau … La Spack
Émilie Dequenne … Charlotte
Benjamin Biolay … Max
Philippe Nahon … Chinaski
Matthias Schoenaerts … Le Gothique en toc
Ian Fonteyn … Tofu