PLOT: A family is trapped in their isolated farmhouse by a pack of relentless, ravenous wild dogs.
REVIEW: After twenty years of directing commercials and shorts, Nick Robertson has made his feature directorial debut with an entry in the "nature run amok" sub-genre of horror, a film that shares its title and some ideas with another killer dog movie that came out in 1977, but is not actually a remake of that earlier film.
An Australian production scripted by Evan Randall Green, Robertson's THE PACK centers on the Wilson family, led by Jack Campbell and Anna Lise Phillips as Adam and Carla, a couple whose decision to move their family to a remote sheep farm nestled in a picturesque patch of countryside may not have been the best idea. Carla's animal clinic is doing okay, but Adam's sheep keep turning up dead with their throats torn out. Not only is the family struggling to make ends meet with the bank breathing their necks, but their location leaves their young son Henry (Hamish Phillips) to just wander around the property all the time, and has their teenage daughter Sophie (Katie Moore) upset that they're living too far out of town to pick up a mobile phone signal. She can't even leave the place on her own because her parents won't lend her their vehicle.
Their decision to live such an isolated life really backfires on them when the perpetrators of the sheep killings rear their growling, not-so-ugly (I'm too fond of dogs to really turn against them) heads; a pack of wild dogs that are unusually strong, extremely aggressive, and ravenously hungry for human meat. The dogs surround the Wilson home, trying to bust in so they can reach their intended prey. Carla theorizes that their unprecedented behavior may be the result of feral interbreeding, but on this night the hows and whys of how these dogs came to be and decided to become maneaters are irrelevant - the Wilsons just need to fight to survive.
And that's pretty much the film in its entirety, roughly 35 minutes of build-up to 50 minutes of siege that's like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD on four legs. Once the dogs arrive at the farmhouse, everything the characters have been dealing with up to that point kind of goes out the window - their financial issues really just served to introduce a rude banker manager so we can hate him and then relish seeing him get torn apart.
Played by German Shepherds who were dyed black, the dogs are effectively menacing, with Robertson making the wise choice of keeping them offscreen as much as possible, including in the attack scenes, which are mostly realized with quick cuts of blood and gnashing teeth rather than long shots of dogs gnawing on stunt performers.
The actors all do fine work with the material they're given, with Hamish Phillips and Katie Moore making very impressive feature debuts here.
There were a couple of elements that hindered my enjoyment of THE PACK, though. One thing that got to me was the fact that once night falls the film's cinematography, which is dreary even during the daylight moments, gets incredibly dark. Darkness tends to be important for a horror film, but sometimes you can go too far, and at times it would have helped if the imagery here was a little brighter.
The other issue comes out of Robertson's admirable attempt to make the film a serious, intense, unnerving experience. He milks the hell out of moments of suspense and tension, to the point where I lost all feelings of tension and instead had to struggle to keep my attention on the screen. THE PACK only runs for 88 minutes, but something about the tone and pacing made it feel much longer than that for me.
I was expecting to get more entertainment out of THE PACK than the movie had to offer, but it is a solid film, a simple story well told and carried on the shoulders of a capable cast. If you're into killer animal flicks, you'll probably get some enjoyment out of this one, and if you're wary of these types of movies because you're an animal lover, the action is shot in such a way that it shouldn't be too traumatizing for you.