This review of Franck Richard’s The Pack is part of the New French Extremity Retrospective series.
Charlotte Massot (Emilie Dequenne) is running away from something. Her car is packed full, and she is driving until she runs out of CDs to listen to. Along the way, she picks up a hitchhiker (Benjamin Biolay) and they wind up at an off-road bar. When the hitchhiker disappears, Charlotte is too curious not to investigate the bar further.
Too bad for her, as she gets conked on the head and winds up in a makeshift cell out back with a pair of other prisoners.
The Pack plays out from here as an escape/torture narrative, where the former quickly gives way to resignation to the latter. What makes the film different is the turn that occurs halfway through the film (a turn that is depicted on the film’s poster, but still I will hold off on spoiling it). It is creature feature by way of torture porn, and that is where its novelty lies.
But its novelty wears thin before we even reach the novel portion of the film. The second act exists seemingly as a means of putting the viewer off guard when the turn happens, as it is a drawn out segment of imprisonment that appears to be going nowhere.
This segment is only engaging in its first moments, in a long take depicting the captors’ first attempt at escape. When this is finished, and it becomes clear that escape is not an option, the suspense and drama of the situation runs flat.
Even the turn fails to bring immediacy to the film. When the reveal of the turn happens, the film quickly cuts away to the next day, where one character gives backstory on what we just saw. Just when the film is about to become active again, it feels the need to halt itself for the sake of exposition. This is not delayed gratification, making us wonder what will happen to our heroine. It is a continuation of dramatic stagnation.
The film’s need to explain itself does not stop here. A moment that is wonderfully understated involving a potential savior for the prisoner is crosscut with flashbacks explaining how this situation came about. It is a jarring moment that over-explains the situation.
The Pack could be a simple, mysterious film about a person wrapped up in an outlandish situation. Instead, the film pauses to explain itself. The forward momentum comes in hiccups; it is never smooth enough to sink into and enjoy.
In terms of a horror movie that has a distinct premise that turns on a dime halfway through, The Pack is most closely related to The Descent. The Descent follows the simple, mysterious film model beautifully. There may be an explanation for the underground creatures that prey on the characters, but the film remains a survival film throughout. On either side of the turn, the goal of the characters remains the same, and the film remains focused on maintaining the tension that comes with realizing that goal.
The Pack never really achieves a sense of dread, and any suspense to be found is inconsistent and fleeting.
As always, thanks for reading!
Like CineFiles on Facebook for updates on new articles and reviews.
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)