“Restraint” seems to be a dirty word where independent horror movies are concerned, and that’s sort of sad. Nobody likes a fast-paced splatter marathon more than I do, but there’s always something to be said for a dark thriller that takes its time, makes you wait for the good stuff, and then delivers the shocks in powerfully effective fashion. That’s pretty much what the Australian import called The Pack pulls off. Sure, it’s got a simple plot and only a small handful of characters to speak of, but it’s also a beautifully shot, subtly suspenseful, and intermittently shocking piece of “nature run amok” storytelling.
As you may have guessed from the title, The Pack is about a pack of feral dogs who stalk, surround, and absolutely terrorize an isolated outback household. (Aside from its title and its basic plot, The Pack bears no relation to the 1977 horror film of the same name.) To their credit, first-timers Nick Robertson (director) and Evan Randall Green (screenwriter) opt for the deliberate slow build as opposed to a non-stop chomp-fest, and the result is a rock-solid “animals attack!” thriller that recalls coldly intense indie features like Open Water (2003) and Backcountry (2014).
What The Pack lacks in body count, it more than makes up for in mood, suspense, and the basic “believability” factor. We’ve all had a few unpleasant run-ins with dogs, and we’re well aware that a pack of feral canines is a plainly horrifying prospect — so now all we need are a few compelling characters to complete the equation. Adam (Jack Campbell) and Carla (Anna Lise Phillips), as a farming family who live well off the beaten path with their feisty teenage daughter Sophie (Katie Moore) and little boy Henry (Hamish Phillips), fit the bill quite nicely. The Pack takes its time developing the plain but likable Wilson family before letting the dogs run loose, and it’s this attention to character that raises the stakes and allows us to actually care about their plight once all hell breaks loose, dog-wise.
If you want a fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek “killer dog” movie, you may want to seek out Man’s Best Friend (1993) or even Rottweiler (2004), but The Pack opts for the (multiple) Cujo approach. The result is a cool, quiet, and enjoyably suspenseful thriller that does offer one or two moments of full-bore carnage, but it works best when it’s focused on character, atmosphere, and slow-burn intensity. The Pack offers an exceedingly straightforward story, but it also packs a few surprises and builds to a satisfyingly kinetic finale. And given how silly most of the films in the “killer dog” canon are, this one feels like a breath of fresh air.
Rating: 3.5 feral burritos out of 5
Screened via the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival.