Written and Directed by: Franck Richard
Starring: Yolande Moreau, …milie Dequenne and Benjamin Biolay
Reviewed by: Brett G.
They're expecting you for dinner.
Twist endings are tricky due to the power they can wield; in many cases, they can make (The Sixth Sense) or break (High Tension) a film by either solidifying all of their goodwill or completely undoing it. Then thereís something like The Pack, which features a turn that doesnít do much of either since its ending doesnít exactly torpedo anything riveting or great, but instead renders a pretty standard, straightforward, and familiar story into something thatís needlessly mystifying. Its final couple of sequences are so tacked on that they make you wonder just how much of what youíve seen really happened or not.
But before we get to that point, The Pack is so familiar that its setup is the worn out ďgirl picks up a hitchhikerĒ routine. Charlotte (…milie Dequenne) is gothy and angsty, and is simply driving as far as her cars and CDs will take her, stopping only to pick up Max (Benjamin Biolay), a similarly listless vagrant. The two end up at hole-in-the-wall truck stop diner, where they encounter some biker thugs before Max takes off to the bathroom and never returns. Charlotte is convinced that she's actually stumbled onto a good guy for once (and so are we thanks to Biolayís performance), so she starts looking for him, even enlisting the services of a retired cop (Philippe Nahon).
A good twist here would have been revealing that Max is, in fact, an okay guy who has fallen victim to a tourist trap, but (surprise!) heís in on it, so Charlotte ends up being bound and tortured by him and his mom (Yolande Moreau), who was previously seen wielding a shotgun to get rid of the bikers. The Pack becomes a bit of a shape-shifter at this point, as it morphs from a grungy, grimy torture flick to yet another movie that has its characters boarded up in a shack, fending off ravenous supernatural entities. Even though the crux of the film is built upon what these things are, Iíll spare the reveal here and just say that The Pack reminds me of Bloody Disgustingís previous selects film, Outcast, in the sense that both are riffs on worn-out sub-genres. That film took the outline of werewolf movies and transplanted it to something else, and this does the same with the undead; in some ways, this feels like an updated French version of the Blind Dead series, with its rural setting and moonlight curses.
Even this reveal isnít the really problematic one at the end, the one that feels a bit perfunctory. It involves a sequence that ends up being a dream, though I will give it credit for sort of taking the piss out of how clichť that dream is and how that type of unbelievable ending functions in movies like this. Though Iím pretty sure that only this short window just before the final shot is only meant to be a dream, you still may be prone to poke at most of the film, and you can make the argument that over half of The Pack is just a fever dream elicited by the throes of death. If you were to snip off the last two or three minutes, itíd still work just fine and would spare you the needless tricks that donít amount to much. At any rate, itís not really accurate to say this ending completely submerges the flick, as there is still a lot to like, particularly the dreamy isolation. When the French go rural, they almost always find the dreadful dreariness of it, with even flimsy, backwoods shacks becoming more like dusty, gothic prisons.
What The Pack lacks in narrative ingenuity, it makes up for with its creepy, low-lit photography and even-keeled performances; the exceptionally loud bikers aside, the characters here are low-key, even Moreauís cold, calculating villain that could easily be a shrill, psychotic shrew in any other film. While The Pack doesnít reach the insane, gore-soaked heights of its French Extreme Wave brethren, it offers a few wince-worthy moments, especially when Charlotte is being subjected to various torments, one of which even had me cringing quite a bit. Another guy doesnít even get the courtesy of torture; instead, his head is punctured and has blood thumped out of it as if it were a ketchup bottle. Also unlike its contemporaries, this film carries a streak of black humor--Charlotteís fate is cleverly prefigured by a game of Ghostsín Goblins, thereís a joke that somehow squeezes laughs out of necrophilia and arson (among other things), plus Nahonís bumbling detective provides some oddly placed levity.
The Pack feels destined to just be pretty decent at best; even its weird twist canít really manage to make the film much better or worse--itís just sort of there, like The Pack as a whole. Itís a film that does some nice things with things youíve seen before, so youíll probably want to see it if youíve worked through other French horrors. Bloody Disgustingís Selects offering is another good one in terms of presentation, as the filmís somber photography is kept intact, and a few making-of features serve as the discís special features. So far, this has been a line of movies thatís had a couple of home runs and some solid singles, and this one more of the latter, placing it firmly in the middle of the pack. Rent it!
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