Eschewing the Raimi-inspired, bloody splatter approach originally promised when the film was announced, Franck Richard's The Pack has instead opted for a much darker and moodier path. Instead of being a movie about shock and adrenaline - though it features both - it is a movie about tone and dread. And my hunch is it's better off for it.
Emilie Dequenne is Charlotte, a beautiful young woman with a bit of an edge to her. We first meet Charlotte on the road, being hounded by a trio of bikers before stopping to pick up a hitchhiker with whom she strikes up a casual conversation. The conversation gets friendlier with perhaps a spark or two between them as the two pull off to eat a roadside diner where things quickly get messy.
First, the bikers are there and itching for a fight. Second, Charlotte's new friend simply disappears. And, third, when Charlotte goes looking for him, she is knocked unconscious only to awake in a cage where she is being held against her will. Her hitch hiking friend was a lure and Charlotte is now being kept as food for the bizarre underground ghouls tended to by the restaurant owner.
In the lead up to the film's release much of the attention given to The Pack was directed to the more extreme elements - the creature effects and promise of blood. And while the creatures are very much present and the film boasts a handful of impressive gore set pieces, it is clear Richard's focus is elsewhere. The Pack is a movie all about tone, all about aggressive, oppressive sound design and detailed art direction. The natural settings are barren and ominous, the man made settings crowded, dingy and oppressive. On a story and character level the film gives you just enough to hang together properly, just enough to keep you properly engaged in the moment. There are no big moments of exposition, no times when the story is allowed to bog down in idle chatter, though Richard does use humor effectively throughout to break the mounting tension.
Though there is nothing concrete to base this on, The Pack has all the signs of a film that has been shaped and discovered in the editing room. It is as though those responsible set out to make one kind of film only to realize late in the game that they had actually made another. Thankfully, in this case, the film makers were able to discover what they had. The shortage of big jumps and signature moments means that The Pack is going to be a difficult film to market - it is too moody for serious gore hounds and too bloody for anyone else - but it stands as an interesting, compelling bit of work. With the experience of his first feature now under his belt it is interesting to consider where Richard may go next.
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