The French wave of nouveau horror shows no sign of abating with this natty little cross-breed that swipes elements from many of the country's recent genre standouts - the hillbillies of The Ordeal and Frontier(s), the maternal horror of Inside, the game-changing twists and grubby suffering of Switchblade Romance and Martyrs. It squeezes them all into a short, sharp runtime, conccoting a heady brew of the familiar and unexpected. It marks a solid and assured debut for writer/director Franck Richard, who manages to refrain from going too far over the top even when he's gleefully leapfrogging from one genre to another; his relatively restrained style offers a refreshing approach to such wild material.

Grungy youth Charlotte is trying to get away from the city, driving into the country with a jukebox-worth of CDs and no particular destination in mind. An encounter with some sleazy bikers encourages her to pick up a hitcher, who turns out to have a similarly dry disposition. When they stop at a quaint diner, her companion disappears, leaving her wondering if the batty old bar lady might have something to hide. When she tries to investigate the property for clues, our heroine is captured by the residents and subjected to an ordeal that quickly escalates beyond rational understanding.

Copy picture

Phillipe Nahon's presence should immediately prep you for some bracing violence and sick humour, so it's a pleasure to see him play such a canny, amusing character, rather than the villains he's so memorably portrayed in the past. It's also a delight to see Yolande Moreau - so bewitchingly delicate but winningly sturdy in artiste-biopic Seraphine - letting her hair down as the lethal matriarch of this backwater clan. She's a low-key riot, complemented by the subtly brooding Benjamin Biolay as the hitcher with undecided loyalties. As the requisite spunky lead, Émilie Dequenne is also pretty impressive, convincingly flipping from cool defiance to abject terror.

It's not really spoiling anything to let slip that here be monsters - they're emblazoned all over the lovely artwork - but they're a curious hybrid; not quite zombies although they shamble about alot, and they're adversely affected by sunlight but not exactly vampires either, despite a vicious bloodlust. They're alot like the beasts in The Descent. One of the things that makes these sort of subterranean creepy-crawlies unsettling is their lack of sight, but the director doesn't squeeze as much threat from this tense situation as Neil Marshall so effectively did.

Franck Richard does manage to create a powerful atmosphere by filming the horror scenes in a matter-of-fact manner, refusing to explain anything for the most part in order to keep the audience on their toes. Everything from the appearance of the creatures to the often surprisingly visceral gore is shot in quite a straightforward way, which somehow gets under your skin.

The cinematography is as impressive as you'd expect, with the harsh, bare surroundings framed to be as hostile as possible, while the film benefits from a gnawing industrial score, that never becomes overbearing as often happens with these kinds of films. The segmented nature of the narrative is bound to frustrate and perplex some, but it's no less of a tonal shift than the one Rodriguez and Tarantino pulled off with From Dusk Till Dawn, and there are considerably more interesting themes at play here. The humour is also well-implemented for the most part, despite the biker characters being a jarring, misogynistic bunch who aren't menacing or amusing enough to do anything other than irritate (at least they give us more fodder for the nasties).

Richard's respect for his inspirations is evident throughout, making this more of a knowing homage than a simple pastiche. It's a scrappy wee mongrel all right but definitely not a dog. The ingredients may not be new but the way they are blended together makes the film feel fresh, and it joins the likes of Tony, [Rec] and the aforementioned Inside in the recent and admirable trend for sub-80-minute indie horror. If you can suspend disbelief and go with the flow, this is an understated but commendably crazy ride.

Let's just hope The Pack doesn't jump on the sequel bandwagon, its odd purity would no doubt be tarnished by either ironing out the ambiguities or delivering more of the same.

Reviewed on: 16 Jul 2011
Share this with others on...
The Pack packshot
A woman finds herself caught up in ritual sacrifice.
Amazon link

Director: Franck Richard

Writer: Franck Richard

Starring: Yolande Moreau, Émilie Dequenne, Eric Godon, Philippe Nahon, Benjamin Biolay, Brice Fournier

Year: 2010

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: France, Belgium


Frightfest 2010

Search database: