It seems that the French countryside is an increasingly nasty and dangerous place to be if the horror films coming out of France are to be believed. Over the last ten odd years we have had The Ordeal, Frontiers and Haute Tension all of which have put me off going to the land of cheese and wine for life. It seems that the disaffected French youth has learnt nothing from these films and is still going to the countryside to get slaughtered. The Pack is the latest in a long line of films that do nothing for the French tourist board and it’s a mish mash of about eight other films that never quite gels into a satisfying whole.
The film begins with young emo woman Charlotte (Emilie Dequenne) travelling the wilderness in her car, listening to shouty music and smoking herself to death. Charlotte is harassed by some bikers who seem to have rape on their minds so as an attempt at some kind of protection she picks up hitch hiker Max (Benjamin Biolay), the two of them hit it off and Charlotte’s harsh exterior starts to crumble a little as she warms to him. They stop at a road side café owned by large and menacing woman La Spack (Yoland Moreau) and are harassed again by the biker gang who catches up to them. La Spack saves both of them from rape with a shotgun and the bikers get the hell out of there. Charlotte and Max are starting to feel safe again when Max vanishes into the bathroom without a trace. Charlotte is left feeling confused and increasingly suspicious of La Spack’s evasive behaviour. Of course this being a horror film Charlotte ends up snooping around after closing, is promptly clocked over the head and awakes in a cage to find that she is going to be sacrificed to some kind of underground mole like mutants that live under a hill.
The problem is with The Pack is that writer/director Franck Richard feels like he is just ticking boxes from the horror films that influenced him as a youngster rather than telling a coherent story. So the film has weird sacrifice in the countryside right out of The Wicker Man, a missing person scenario right out of The Vanishing, strange torture porn as Charlotte is linked up to some kind of blood transfusion device that is never explained and also at one point becomes a horror siege movie like the Evil Dead films or From Dusk Till Dawn. All of these influences are presented in lieu of a script that actually flows nicely from scene to scene and builds tension. The creatures are right out of The Descent and admittedly are quite cool with a nice use of make up and actually give you the creeps. The problem is Richard has nothing to do with them once they are revealed and so the whole affair feels almost like a student film where Richard was proving what he could do if given a chance. This feeling is further compacted when at the end you realise that the film was barely an hour and ten minutes long. There are also some bizarre editorial choices here, either through budget constraints or for some other reason. Every time a seemingly horrific event is about to take place, the camera suddenly cuts away sparing the audience from something horrifying. Even stranger when you consider what has come out of France in recent times, why would you choose not to show a mauling from strange creepy creatures if you are making a horror film?
Thus far this is Franck Richard’s only effort as a writer/director. I hate to run down a new filmmaker on his first time out so what’s good about the film? Well the way in which he shoots the French countryside is suitably creepy. The frame is filled with grey mist and you can almost feel the cold seeping in through every shot reminiscent of old Hammer horror films. Richard’s use of sound is also very impressive, especially during the siege sequence in an old cabin when guns are going off and the wind is whistling through the wood. The ending is also quite satisfying; despite feeling a bit seen it all before it feels like a suitable conclusion to the story. Emilie Dequenne is also a pretty nice looking leading lady and sells the tough emo chick thing at the beginning and then also the frantic victim role in the middle.
The Pack isn’t a bad watch when it comes on the Lovefilm streaming player or Film4 later in the year. It’s just something that doesn’t live up to the great blood soaked legacy of its countries recent output.
Extras: Making Of, Trailer
The Pack is out now on DVD