Oh, those wacky Aussies. The people from The Land Down Under have gifted the world of horror with the likes of Rogue, Snowtown, The Babadook and Wolf Creek, to name a few. Speaking of wolves, after years of directing commercials and shorts, Nick Robertson has gifted horror fans with The Pack (no relation to the 1977 film of the same name). The idea of a group of killer dogs always gets people going, and is far more believable than the oft-quoted stereotype of dingoes running away with your baby. It’s even scarier when they start doing it for fun, rather than sustenance. And this pack doesn’t mess around.
At a remote farm in rural Australia, Carla and Adam Wilson (Anna Lise Phillips and Jack Campbell) are finding life a bit rough. While Carla’s animal clinic is faring well, an increasing number of Adam’s livestock are being munched on. Throw in the bank becoming more insistent with money and their 18-year-old daughter Sophie (Katie Moore) resenting their decision to live out in the country, things aren’t so great. The sole member of the family who doesn’t mind is Henry (Hamish Phillips), who spends much of his time wandering around the property. However, the same pack of dogs that have been going after Adam’s livestock have decided that humans are much more tempting.
Atmosphere is always a key thing for films like this, and The Pack brings it in spades. Getting the expected night attacks in a pitch-black barn with only a flashlight out of the way, the film’s isolated and picturesque setting gets things off to a good start. Countless films have demonstrated that an isolated area is not only beautiful, but also leaves you stranded if things go south. From the establishing aerial shots at the start of the film and the various ground shots of Adam patrolling the property, it’s almost a no-brainer for Robertson to have this easy of a time communicating that to the viewer. Of course, things dramatically change once the sun goes down, and the tension and feeling of dread is increased. It helps that we don’t get a good look at the dogs when they attack (which seems odd given that everyone knows what a dog looks like), leaving the mind to fill in the blanks in its oh-so-devious ways. Purists will be happy that there’s little in the way of CGI, but at the same time, many attacks are suggested with quick shots of blood and snarling teeth. It’s not gratuitous, and does leave the mind to do its thing, but at the same time, you want to see the goods. Oh well.
As far as the cast goes, there’s nothing offensive about the performances here. Anna Lise Phillips and Jack Campbell turn in adequate performances, and the film gives us time to actually grow to like them. Thankfully, newcomers Hamish Phillips and Katie Moore don’t fall into the trap of annoying young actors, whose sole existence is to be one-note plot vehicles. Really, they too turn in appropriate performances. While the performances do well, the script starts to lead The Pack astray with some questionable happenings.
Getting the whole predictability of The Pack out of the way (quiet establishing first act, family bands together to fend off the siege for the rest of the film), the problems occur start with some rather unbelievable things, starting with the dogs themselves. While it’s established that the dogs are to the point of killing just for fun, apparently they also take joy in toying with the family. Prior to descending upon the farmhouse, the pack is seen to simply scare Adam while he’s out in the woods, rather than ripping him apart. Once they do reach the farmhouse, one dog is particularly keen to sneak past Carla and the kids rather than outright attacking them. Even the humans aren’t immune to the script. When an officer shows up at the house looking around for the dogs, Carla decides to just watch him instead of opening the window and yelling at him to get back in the car. Then you have Adam being attacked in his truck and surviving as the dog runs off, leaving Adam bloodied and vulnerable instead of dead. Oh, did I mention that for plot’s sake, Adam runs his truck into the cop car, effectively leaving the group no working vehicles to escape? Then you have Carla putting the kids in the cupboard to hide, forgetting that dogs can smell better than humans. Seems the script thought it was dealing with a human antagonist…
By this point, you’re probably thinking that The Pack is a throwaway waste of time. Well, it kind of is, but it’s at least somewhat entertaining. Getting the lame plot devices and nonsensical script elements out of the way, it’s a decent way to spend an evening if your expectations aren’t too high. The atmosphere and locale were definitely the highlights, and the acting by everyone involved won’t insult your intelligence if you don’t think beyond the individual characters. It’s not going to replace Cujo as one of the best “killer animal” movies, but you could do a lot worse.