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The earth wants blood and we can't refuse it
A UK region 2 DVD review of THE PACK / LA MEUTE by Gort
 

'Interesting' is a word with both literal and implied meanings. Some things – books, films, people, etc. – really are interesting, but the word is also famously used to describe something you don't really like that has been created by someone you'd rather not upset, as in, "How's the pie? I made it myself!" "It's...interesting." The Pack [La meute], a small scale French horror film from 2010, is certainly interesting. Whether it's interesting in the good way, the no-so-good way, or a combination of the two is likely to be in the eye of the horror beholder.

Its lead character is Charlotte, a purposeless traveller with a worn-on-the-sleeve attitude. She's driving south until her CDs run out and everything about her countenance suggests it's a fuck-you gesture to just about everyone she knows. But we never find out for sure. She stops for a snack and is harassed by the sort of biker gang you only ever see in movies, one whose members shout crude sexual suggestions with cartoonish enthusiasm like they're all high on drugs from an exploitation movie version of the late 1960s. Surprisingly, Charlotte walks away from this encounter physically unmolested. A little less surprisingly, the bikers are soon in her rear view mirror, so she stops to pick up a hitch-hiker named Max in the hope that he will act as a half-arsed deterrent. The bikers drive on by and a short while later Charlotte and Max are getting on well enough (if you can describe glancing uneasily at each other and exchanging the odd word as getting on) for her to doze off and let him drive. He pulls up at a ramshackle diner where the two stop for a rest and Charlotte tells a joke that makes neither of them laugh. They're not big on smiles, these two.

And that's when the cartoon bikers turn up and make a overly loud show of attempting to rape them both. This is stopped in its tracks by the diner's owner – a frumpy old woman named La Spack if you please – waving a shotgun and threatening to splatter her lino with their ball juice. Hey, don't have a go at me, it's what she says. The bikers take a hike and Max goes to the loo, but he never comes out, and when Charlotte goes in to get him she finds no trace that he was ever there. When La Spack closes the curtains and heads towards the toilet with a ferocious looking nail board, it looks very much like Charlotte is set to join him, wherever he is. But this bathroom encounter is interrupted before it begins by the noisy arrival of Chinaski, a slob of a retired sheriff who wears a t-shirt with the words "fuck on the first date" emblazoned across the front. What a charmer. Charlotte talks to him, then hangs around outside in the dark until La Spack closes up, then breaks in to investigate a false wall in the toilet. She's then knocked unconscious and wakes in a cage next to a dazed oriental man with a John Wayne fixation. La Spack is behind it, but what are her reasons?

The Pack ticks a number of familiar genre boxes on its route to this point. We have girl travelling alone, a moody hitch-hiker, a mouthy bike gang and an isolated diner with an oddball owner. It's clear that our Charlotte doesn't watch enough horror movies. The reason for her capture leads to an offbeat take on zombie movie conventions, whose localised approach has more in common with old-style genre works such as Plague of the Zombies (which it visually references) than the current swathe of apocalyptic sub-Romero knock-offs. Somewhat less engaging is Charlotte herself, who although ably played by Émilie Dequenne, is given next to no back story and an impenetrable surface, and it's pushing it to expect us to care for her fate purely on the basis that she's a woman in peril. Her caged attempt to snag a dropped mobile phone is nowhere near as tense as it ought to be, and by the last act there's a sense that director Franck Richard is less interested in storytelling than in arranging his eyeless zombies in a series of darkly attractive night-time compositions.

The story itself moves in sometimes abrupt hops powered by a codswallop logic, and credibility takes a hike when La Spack takes a shotgun blast at point blank range and returns minutes later for a heavily telegraphed surprise, her unlikely resurrection explained away with the line, "She never takes off her coat of mail." Oh I'll just bet she doesn't. Not that it matters with characters this dopey – after being chased into the hut where the bikers are hanging out (a hut with a whole arsenal of guns under the floorboards – handy, that), Charlotte, Max and their too-easily converted comrades just sit and wait for the zombie attack instead of shooting the waiting La Spack in her very exposed head and running away under the protection of daylight.

The Pack certainly looks nice, courtesy of cinematographer Laurent Barès, and has an atmospheric electronic score from Chris Spencer and Ari Benjamin Meyers. Its low key approach is certainly welcome in a genre that too often shouts at the top of its lungs, though its attempts at black humour, while amusing in themselves – a zombie thrusts its arm through the stomach of a biker so it can unlock the door against which he is standing – do jar a little with the surrounding gloom. The result is a horror film whose narrative and characters are underdeveloped and that is never particularly scary. But it is interesting. And you can take that however you please.

sound and vision

A pleasantly rendered 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that copes well with the film's gloomy visuals and boasts a solid but not overpowering contrast range, even in darker scenes. The usual post-production game-playing with colour makes it hard to be sure of the accuracy on this count, but it is at least consistent, and the level of detail is generally good.

The Dolby 5.1 track does particularly well by the music, really rumbling the floor when the bass notes are hit, and the dialogue and effects are very clearly reproduced. The full surround stage is well used for music and location atmospherics, and separation of effects is often distinct.

extra features

The Artist at Work: Creating The Pack (2:26)
Not the making-of featurette you might be expecting, but a brief look at creation of the artwork for the UK DVD cover. Insanely brief and narrated at a pace that suggests the soundtrack has been speeded up, it's a little more informative than its running time might suggest.

Trailer (1:06)
A suggestive trailer that carefully avoids dialogue in the hope that lazier genre fans won't realise it's French.

summary

Playing in part like a filmed horror comic, The Pack has enough going for it to make you wish that more attention had been paid to the storytelling and the characters, but it's still engaging and (perhaps self-consciously) unusual enough to be worthy of the attention of dedicated horror fans. Icon's DVD looks and sounds rather good, but the extras are threadbare – their combined running time is less than four minutes – so let's hope you like the film.

The Pack
La meute

France / Belgium 2010
84 mins
director
Franck Richard
producers
Vérane Frédiani
Christophe Louis
Franck Ribière
screenplay
Franck Richard
cinematography
Laurent Barès
music
Chris Spencer
Ari Benjamin Meyers
starring
Yolande Moreau
Émilie Dequenne
Benjamin Biolay
Philippe Nahon
Matthias Schoenaerts
Ian Fonteyn

disc details
region 2
video
1.85:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 5.1 surround
languages
French
subtitles
English (burned in)
extras
Artwork featurette
Trailer
distributor
Icon Home Entertainment
release date
4 July 2011
review posted
4 July 2011

See all of Gort's reviews